Why Your Cupcake Might Not Taste as Sweet as Mine

Did you ever stop to wonder whether a sugar cookie tasted the same to you as to the person sitting across the table from you?

You love to eat sweet things: yummy cakes, delicious candy bars and sometimes, maybe, on special occasions, crazy-decadent combinations of both. But did you ever stop to wonder if these things taste the same way to the person sitting across the table from you, digging in with – wait, is that equal gusto?

The answer — surprising or not — may be no. A recent study conducted by sensory scientists, and led by Danielle Reed at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia, has determined that some people are more sensitive not only to bitter compounds, but to sweetness as well.

The study, which compared how identical and fraternal twins perceived the intensity of sugars and sugar substitutes, determined that about 30 percent of the variation in perception of sweet tastes (both natural and artificial) may be attributable to genetics. The researchers suspect there may be a single set of genes at play, but haven’t yet quite teased out which ones.

They are also not sure how sweetness perception affects behavior, though they suggest that a lack of sensitivity may not make us less interested in eating sugary treats. But they do have a theory about how the genetic variations may have evolved.

"If [your ancestors] were from a salt-abundant geography, like near the ocean, then maybe they got plenty of salt, so they didn't need to be sensitive to it," Reed told NPR’s The Salt. "But if they were from a place with a lot of poisonous plants, maybe they needed to be more sensitive to bitter."

Meanwhile, today, when added sugar is everywhere, being sensitive to sugar might be a health benefit, prompting you to eat less of it. "It now pays to get a lot of pleasure out of a little bit of sugar," Reed said.

Interesting. Now, about that candy bar cake
Photo courtesy of iStock
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