Thermal Tasters – what more do we know?

Thermal Tasters – what more do we know?

thermal taster

Last week I caught up with Candy, our PhD student, to hear about the latest findings of her research into Thermal Taster status and its impact on sensory perception. Candy was busy putting a poster together showing some of her results about how thermal taster status impacts detection thresholds and how it's related to PROP taster status.

So what is a Thermal Taster?

A thermal taster (TT) is someone who detects a taste sensation when their tongue is either heated or cooled, when no taste stimulus is present! The temperature of the tongue is manipulated using a special thermode device. Typical temperature ranges heat the tongue from 15 to 40o C and cool it from 35 down to 5oC. Previous research using supra-threshold concentrations has indicated that Thermal Tasters may perceive some taste and aroma stimuli as more intense than Thermal non Tasters (TnTs). However until now, no one has looked at differences between the groups in terms of their detection thresholds.

What have we found?

Candy screened a massive 200 people for TT status and grouped them into TTs, TnTs and Uncat (uncategorized). She then determined the detection thresholds of these people for each of seven taste, aroma and mouthfeel stimuli. The results showed that sucrose was the only stimulus for which TTs and TnTs showed a difference in detection threshold: the TTs were more sensitive. This indicates that the greater sensitivity of TTs at supra-threshold concentrations reported by earlier researchers does not hold at detection level. This is not too surprising as we know that we perceive things at threshold and above threshold, by different mechanisms. However, Candy has been carrying out studies at supra-threshold levels with her group of tasters so watch this space!

Candy then went on to investigate if there was any relationship between being a TT and being a PROP taster. It seems as if the two operate independently of one another so being one doesn't mean you will be the other.

Interestingly, psychological measures indicate that Thermal tasters may be more interested and passionate about food and new culinary experiences than Thermal non Tasters!

All of these findings will be collated and reported over the coming months. In the meantime, you can hear some of these results first hand at the PFSG Conference on 13th May 2013.

Our continued thanks go to Nottingham University for its support of this research.