Research suggests that one in eight adults prefer extreme sour sensations

For most people, biting into a lemon can be a disappointment, losing the sour taste, but a new study by Penn State researchers found that one in eight adults prefers intense sour sensations. A cross-cultural study, recently published in the journal Food quality and preferenceIt has been proven that there is a subset of „sour lovers” who enjoy sour foods exceptionally well.

This is the first time it has been convincingly shown that there is a segment of adults who like very sour things.”


John Hayes, professor of food science, director of the Sensory Evaluation Center at Penn State, and study author

Previous studies have shown that some children, roughly one in three, enjoy intensely sour things, Hayes explained, but this has not been directly tested in adults. His latest study, conducted in collaboration with researchers in Italy, shows that for a significant proportion of people, sour pleasure lasts into adulthood.

„Think of candy like Warheads and Sour Patch Kids,” Hayes said. „The market tells us there must be some who enjoy them into adulthood, but now there is an estimate of how many.”

An international research team has set out to test the widely held belief that adults generally don't like sourdough, which they predict will lead to a drop in liking as sourness increases. They tested sour preference patterns in two different countries in two different groups of individuals from different food cultures -; Italy and America.

The team measured the responses of 143 American adults to various levels of citric acid in water. They also measured the responses of 350 Italian adults to pear juice with varying amounts of citric acid. They selected participants of similar age, gender, and ethnicity -; Majority white -; from a metropolitan area in Tuscany, Italy, and from the municipality of State College.

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Participants were asked to rate the intensity and liking of samples with varying degrees of sourness. For both cohorts, the researchers found evidence of three different response patterns: a strong negative group, which showed decreased liking with high sourness, an intermediate group, which showed a greater dampening of liking with high sourness, and a strong positive group. Too sour.

„Most people don't like sour, so if you average across the whole group, you might conclude that more sour is bad,” says Hayes. „But if you dig deeper, you can find big differences between people.”

By measuring the degree of preference, the researchers were able to test the hypothesis that „sour lovers” might be less sensitive to sour foods, with „sour lovers” registering higher sour concentrations as low sour concentrations. Someone else.

„You can imagine a case where they're less responsive to sour in general,” Hayes said. „But that's not what we're finding. We're finding that people who actually like sour taste enjoy sour taste just as much as everyone else. They enjoy it more.”

Strikingly, both Italian and American cohorts showed similar patterns of reaction to sourdough, approximately 63% to 70% in the strong negative group and approximately 11% to 12% in the strong positive group, suggesting that these proportions may be similar. Be consistent across cultures.

„Italian food culture and American food culture are very different,” said Sara Spinelli, a researcher at the University of Florence in Italy and first author of the paper. „Yet we end up with almost identical percentages, which suggests to us that it's not an effect of prior exposure. It may be an innate difference about those individuals. We don't know what it is, but it tells us that it's not just the foods you grow up with.”

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The researchers noted that the data support the existence of previously unexplored taste profiles that respond favorably to sour stimuli. Because sourness is considered a negative emotional attribute, the researchers were surprised to find that one in eight participants from both countries reported an increase in liking as sourness increased.

„This study highlights the importance of looking at individual differences and potential consumer segments, rather than averaging the responses of all individuals within a group,” Spinelli said. „Because when we average out the response, what we're seeing is that we're missing this subset of people who don't like sourdough and actually like it.”

Hayes explained that this category could be used to create products designed to account for a specific „sour liqueur” flavor profile.

„This will ultimately help encourage consumption of healthy foods and drinks that are less sweet but still acceptable to consumers,” he said.

Data collection and analysis from the US Collaborative was supported by a National Food and Agriculture Hatch Act grant from the US Department of Agriculture and a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Italian data were collected in the Italian Taste project, a national project aimed at studying food preferences. When the manuscript was written, the first author was a Fulbright Research Scholar at the Center for Emotional Assessment at Penn State.

Other Penn State authors on the study are Helen Hopper, associate professor of food science, and Victor Moulinier, an emotional science instructor in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Other teachers from the University of Florence were John Prescott and Erminio Monteleone.

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