The Science Behind the Taste Test

The science behind taste test

The Taste Test is based on 80 years of scientific research by some of the foremost psycho-sensory minds of the 20th century.

The 1930s: Bitter or Tasteless

The story starts in 1931 when Arthur L Fox, an American chemist, discovered that some individuals found a compound called phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) to be bitter while others found it tasteless. At the 1931 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Fox collaborated with Albert Blakeslee (a geneticist) to organise an experiment where attendees tasted PTC: 65% found it bitter, 28% found it tasteless and 6% described other taste qualities. Subsequent work revealed that the ability to taste PTC was genetic in nature.

Albert and Arthur’s 1932 paper "Our different taste worlds" was pioneering for its time and sets out the idea that we all have different sensitivity to bitterness and that this fact can be simply assessed. This was the start of the scientific discoveries that led to Taste Test by Bibendum.

1960-1993: PROP and Supertasters

In the 1960s, Roland Fischer was the first to link the ability to taste PTC, and the related compound propylthiouracil (PROP), to food preference and body type. Subsequent to this, no-one really picked up on the idea in earnest until Linda Bartoshuk's ground-breaking 1993 work "The biological basis of food perception and acceptance." Bartoshuk’s work with PROP brought the phrases 'taster', 'super-taster' and 'non-taster' to a wider audience, including – for the first time – the wine industry in the form of Tim Hanni MW.

1993 – 2009: Working with Wine

Tim Hanni MW worked very closely with researchers at Cornell University led by Virginia Utermohlen to develop our understanding of how taste works and how that knowledge can be applied to the way we talk about wine.

Utermohlen’s work built upon the knowledge that individuals all have different numbers of taste buds and that this varies from fewer than 500 to in excess of 10,000. It became clear to Utermohlen that the amount of taste buds an individual has determines what sort of foods and drinks they will enjoy. Put simply, someone with 10,000 tastebuds will be very sensitive to strong flavours and find bitter flavours unpalatable. Someone at the lower end of the scale, will be much more tolerant of intense, bitter flavours.

2010 – Today: Bibendum gets involved

In early 2010 Bibendum started working with Tim Hanni to see how it could use this research to help consumers discover new wines.

Bibendum was interested in finding a new way of communicating about wine that talked about flavour rather than just grape varieties, countries and soil types – and Tim’s ideas really struck a chord.

Over the last three years Bibendum has used all the research into how people taste to develop the Taste Test.

21st May 2011

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