The taste of common sugar substitutes is often described as being much more intense than sugar, but participants in a recent study indicated that these non-nutritive sugar substitutes are no sweeter than the real thing, according to Penn State food scientists.
In the study, participants compared the taste of non-nutritive sweeteners that are often used as low- or no-calorie sugar substitutes with those of nutritive sweeteners, such as sugar, maple syrup and agave nectar. The participants indicated they could perceive the non-nutritive sweeteners -- such as aspartame, marketed as NutraSweet; acesulfameK, often called AceK; and RebA, a compound found in the stevia plant -- at lower concentrations than real sugar, but the intensity of these sensations was no sweeter than sugar and other nutritive sweeteners.
"While you can detect non-nutritive sweeteners at lower levels than sugar, that doesn't really tell us anything about the perceived intensity of that sweetness," said John Hayes, assistant professor, food science and director of the sensory evaluation center.
The assumption that these sweeteners are excessively sweet may be the result of confusing potency and intensity, said Hayes, who worked with Rachel Antenucci, a graduate student in food science.
"In terms of receptor biology, the potency of a substance describes the lowest concentration that activates a taste receptor, but this does not predict the intensity, or magnitude, of the response," said Hayes.
The ability to detect sweetness of non-nutritive sweeteners at low levels, then, is related to their potency, but not their intensity, he added. Sugar, on the other hand, is less potent but causes more intense sensations of sweetness.
"These ingredients are often marketed or described as 'high-intensity' sweeteners, but that's misleading," said Hayes. "Our data confirm other work showing the maximal sweetness of low-cal sweeteners is often much lower than that of table sugar or other natural sweeteners, like maple syrup."
The researchers, whose findings are available online in the International Journal of Obesity, said these sweeteners did not seem to act as supernormal stimuli -- a term first used by Nobel laureate Niko Tingergen to describe exaggerated stimuli that serve as triggers for innate behaviors.
Some psychologists have suggested that supernormal stimuli and the responses they provoke could be a factor in the obesity epidemic, said Hayes.
"We have evolved to like sweetness from before birth, so some people assume so-called 'high intensity' sweeteners hijack or over-stimulate our natural drive to consume sweet foods, causing us to overeat," said Hayes. "However, this view assumes that foods we eat today are more intense than those we would have been exposed to evolutionarily, and our data imply this isn't the case."
Hayes also said the availability of highly desired foods may play a more important role in the obesity epidemic.
The researchers recruited 401 participants to take part in a series of taste tests held at the Sensory Evaluation Center at Penn State. Once the subjects were briefed on the study, they tasted between 12 and 15 separate samples that contained maple syrup, agave nectar and sucrose, as well as various concentrations of aspartame, sucralose, AceK and RebA. Participants indicated that the caloric sweeteners all had higher sweetness ratings than the non-nutritive sweeteners.
The participants also indicated that as the concentrations of sucralose, AceK and RebA were increased, the sweetness leveled off and the taste became more bitter.
The National Institutes of Health supported this work.
Matt Swayne | Eurek Alert!
Research investigates whether solar events could trigger birth defects on Earth
21.07.2015 | University of Kansas
Accounting for short-lived forcers in carbon budgets
15.07.2015 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Physicists from Regensburg and Marburg, Germany have succeeded in taking a slow-motion movie of speeding electrons in a solid driven by a strong light wave. In the process, they have unraveled a novel quantum phenomenon, which will be reported in the forthcoming edition of Nature.
The advent of ever faster electronics featuring clock rates up to the multiple-gigahertz range has revolutionized our day-to-day life. Researchers and...
Researchers have developed an ultrafast light-emitting device that can flip on and off 90 billion times a second and could form the basis of optical computing.
Joint BioEnergy Institute study identifies bacterial protein that is key to protecting rice against bacterial blight
A bacterial signal that when recognized by rice plants enables the plants to resist a devastating blight disease has been identified by a multi-national team...
Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin are one step closer to delivering smart windows with a new level of energy efficiency, engineering materials that allow windows to reveal light without transferring heat and, conversely, to block light while allowing heat transmission, as described in two new research papers.
By allowing indoor occupants to more precisely control the energy and sunlight passing through a window, the new materials could significantly reduce costs for...
Argonne scientists used Mira to identify and improve a new mechanism for eliminating friction, which fed into the development of a hybrid material that exhibited superlubricity at the macroscale for the first time. Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) researchers helped enable the groundbreaking simulations by overcoming a performance bottleneck that doubled the speed of the team's code.
While reviewing the simulation results of a promising new lubricant material, Argonne researcher Sanket Deshmukh stumbled upon a phenomenon that had never been...
23.07.2015 | Event News
10.07.2015 | Event News
25.06.2015 | Event News
30.07.2015 | Life Sciences
30.07.2015 | Trade Fair News
30.07.2015 | Awards Funding