British Journal of Nutrition

Human and Clinical Nutrition

Taste–nutrient relationships in commonly consumed foods

Mirre Viskaal van Dongena1 c1, Marjolijn C. van den Berga1, Nicole Vinka1, Frans J. Koka1 and Cees de Graafa1

a1 Division of Human Nutrition, Wageningen University, PO Box 8129, 6700 EV Wageningen, The Netherlands


Taste is expected to represent a food's nutrient content. The objective was to investigate whether taste acts as nutrient-sensor, within the context of the current diet, which is high in processed foods. Intensities of the five basic tastes of fifty commonly consumed foods were rated by nineteen subjects (aged 21·0 (sd 1·7) years, BMI 21·5 (sd 2·0) kg/m2). Linear regression was used to test associations between taste and nutrient contents. Food groups based on taste were identified using cluster analysis; nutrient content was compared between food groups, using ANOVA. Sweetness was associated with mono- and disaccharides (R 2 0·45, P < 0·01). Saltiness and savouriness were correlated, with r 0·92 (P < 0·01) and both were associated with Na (both: R 2 0·33, P < 0·01) and protein (R 2 0·27, P < 0·01 and R 2 0·33, P < 0·01, respectively). Cluster analysis indicated four food groups: neutral, salty and savoury, sweet–sour and sweet foods. Mono- and disaccharide content was highest in sweet foods (P < 0·01). In salty and savoury foods, protein content (P = 0·01 with sweet–sour foods, not significant with neutral or sweet foods) and Na content (P < 0·05) were the highest. Associations were more pronounced in raw and moderately processed foods, than in highly processed foods. The findings suggest that sweetness, saltiness and savouriness signal nutrient content, particularly for simple sugars, protein and Na. In highly processed foods, however, the ability to sense nutrient content based on taste seems limited.

(Received April 11 2011)

(Revised August 03 2011)

(Accepted August 24 2011)

(Online publication September 29 2011)


c1 Corresponding author: M. Viskaal van Dongen, email


Abbreviations: MSG, monosodium glutamate