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Effect of sensory perception of foods on appetite and food intake: a review of studies on humans


Objective: How much do the sensory properties of food influence the way people select their food and how much they eat? The objective of this paper is to review results from studies investigating the link between the sensory perception of food and human appetite regulation.

Content of the review: The influence of palatability on appetite and food intake in humans has been investigated in several studies. All reviewed studies have shown increased intake as palatability increased, whereas assessments of the effect of palatability using measures of subjective appetite sensations have shown diverging results, for example, subjects either feel more hungry and less full after a palatable meal compared to a less palatable meal, or they feel the opposite, or there is no difference. Whether palatability has an effect on appetite in the period following consumption of a test meal is unclear.Several studies have investigated which sensory properties of food are involved in sensory-specific satiety. Taste, smell, texture and appearance-specific satieties have been identified, whereas studies on the role of macronutrients and the energy content of the food in sensory-specific satiety have given equivocal results. Different studies have shown that macronutrients and energy content play a role in sensory-specific satiety or that macronutrients and energy content are not a factor in sensory-specific satiety. Sensory-specific satiety may have an important influence on the amount of food eaten. Studies have shown that increasing the food variety can increase food and energy intake and in the short to medium term alter energy balance. Further knowledge about the importance of flavour in appetite regulation is needed, for example, which flavour combinations improve satiety most, the possible connection between flavour intensity and satiety, the effect of persistence of chemesthetic sensation on palatability and satiety, and to what extent genetic variation in taste sensitivity and perception influences dietary habits and weight control.


How much do the sensory properties of food influence eating behaviour? Traditionally, sensory science and nutrition, including the uncovering of the mechanisms of human appetite regulation, have been two separate fields of research. However, within the last decades, there has been increasing interaction between the two fields, which has resulted in a wide range of studies that have covered aspects from both fields. Results from these studies suggest that the impression people get from the sensory properties of foods plays a very important role in the way they select their food and how much they eat. Seen in the light of the continuing increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity in large parts of the world,1 it is important to identify all aspects of human appetite regulation to understand this trend, and to prevent it from progressing. Thus, the objective of this paper is to review results from studies investigating the link between the sensory perception of food and human eating behaviour. The review begins with a presentation of how appetite and palatability are measured.


In the selection of studies, we have concentrated on human studies with participation of healthy subjects with a body mass index of 18.5–25.0 kg/m2. Normal-weight subjects were chosen because it is important to identify how appetite is regulated in normal-weight people in order to provide a basis for understanding whether there is a difference in normal-weight and overweight people's eating behaviour. The subjects were adults (18–50 y) and the women were premenopausal. Only studies conducted in Western countries published in 1980 and onwards were included. Selected studies had a link between the sensory perception of food and appetite sensations and/or energy intake. Therefore, studies dealing only with macronutrients and appetite sensations and/or energy intake were not included. In the search for relevant studies, we used the databases Medline and Food Science and Technology Abstracts and, in addition, reference lists were scanned thoroughly.

Measuring appetite in human subjects

To prevent confusion about the terminology used when describing aspects of appetite regulation, the following will be applied in the review: ‘appetite’ is often referred to as a sensation related to maintenance of eating, often a desire for something specific,2 but in this review it is used as a general term of overall sensations related to food intake. The definition of ‘satiety’ can be separated into two functionally different terms: ‘satiation’ or ‘within-meal’ satiety, which refers to the process that leads to the termination of a meal, and ‘satiety’ or ‘between-meal satiety’, which is considered as the state of inhibition of eating, and therefore related to the time interval until the next eating episode.3,4,5 ‘Hunger’ can be described as a nagging, irritating feeling that signifies food deprivation to a degree that the next eating episode should take place.2,3,6 The term ‘fullness’ is defined as a sensation of the degree of stomach filling, and ‘prospective food consumption’ as an indicator of the supposed amount of forthcoming food intake.

Within appetite research, different scales have been used for the assessment of subjective appetite sensations. Fixed-point scales (FPS) and visual analogue scales (VAS) are the most commonly used rating methods. FPS usually uses numerical scales, which vary greatly in complexity and structure. Thus, the intervals or points may have numerical indications or different wording.7 Most often used in appetite research are VAS, in the form of horizontal lines of varying length, with words anchored at each end, describing the extremes of a unipolar question (for example for hunger: ‘I have never been more hungry’/’I am not hungry at all’).8,9,10,11 Subjects are asked to make a vertical mark across the line corresponding to their feeling at the present time. Quantification of the measurement is made by measuring the distance from the left end of the line to the mark. The subjects are asked about their appetite for a meal or their feelings of hunger, desire to eat, satiety, fullness and prospective food consumption, with text expressing the most positive and most negative rating anchored at each end.

Besides using appetite ratings to assess appetite sensations, food intake has been used to measure the effect of dietary manipulations. This is made possible by serving an ad libitum meal and asking the subjects to eat until they are full and then recording the amount of food eaten in grams or units.11,12 Stubbs et al13 have reviewed the use of VAS as a tool for measuring subjective appetite sensations and they concluded that VAS show some ability to predict aspects of feeding behaviour and act as a useful adjunct to measures of food, energy and nutrient intake; VAS show sensitivity to experimental manipulations and show good reproducibility provided that they are used in within-subject designs. Flint et al14 have studied the reproducibility, power and validity of VAS and they found that using a paired design, when looking for an effect size of 10%, 18 subjects are needed to achieve sufficient study power and thereby minimising the risk of a type II error (‘false-negative’ result). If the effect parameters of interest are limited to mean postprandial appetite ratings, eight subjects are enough.

When investigating human appetite regulation using female subjects, it is very important that the women are in the same phase in their menstrual cycle on all test days because of the uncertainty of how the different phases of the menstrual cycle influence appetite regulation. Dye and Blundell15 have reviewed 30 studies from the period 1981 to 1995 all investigating the connection between the menstrual cycle and energy intake. With the reservation for different study designs kept in mind, the general picture shows that women have a significantly higher spontaneous energy intake in the premenstrual phase (luteal phase) compared to the postmenstrual phase (follicular phase).

Measuring palatability in human subjects

There have been several suggestions to define palatability, but in his review on palatability and appetite Yeomans16 suggests that palatability should be defined as the hedonic evaluation of oro-sensory food cues under standardised conditions. The sensory properties of food determining palatability are taste, smell, texture, temperature, visual appearance, sound and trigeminal input (irritative sensations).17

Palatability has been measured using either VAS or FPS where subjects are asked questions like ‘how pleasant have you found the food?’, ‘how satisfying have you found the food?’, ‘how palatable is this food?’, ‘how attractive do you find the food?’ or ‘how much did you like the food?’.7,8,18,19 Palatability is classified according to how pleasant or well liked the food is, the more pleasant or liked, the higher the palatability. Many investigators have used the terms palatability and pleasantness synonymously, but there is a danger in this because of different interpretations of the term palatability.11

The palatability of food is often assessed by taste tests pleasantness ratings, where a small sample of food is tasted and swallowed,20,21,22,23 or by using taste-and-spit pleasantness tests, where the food samples are tasted and then spit out.24 Investigations of whether these tests can predict consumption have shown that taste test pleasantness ratings are poor predictors of the actual amount a person will consume in comparison to other people, but they can be reliable guides to consumption differences within a person,25 and that taste-and-spit pleasantness ratings cannot be used to predict consumption by individual subjects, but perhaps can be used to predict the average consumption of a product,26 and the results should be taken cautiously when trying to predict ingestion.27

Studies investigating the link between the sensory properties of food and appetite

Influence of palatability on appetite and food intake

The usual approach in studying the influence of palatability on appetite has been to offer subjects test foods with different levels of palatability and compare the effect of the test foods on hunger, satiety and/or subsequent food intake. One way is to make use of subjects' food preferences by making a subjective index of the palatability of test foods obtained from each subject using VAS and then comparing this index with the amount eaten by the subjects. Another way to make use of the subjects' preferences for foods is by comparing the effect of a preferred test meal and a nonpreferred test meal on appetite, the test meals being equicaloric although not identical in macronutrient content. Studies using these approaches have shown increased intake as palatability increased12,28,29,30 (see Table 1). Guy-Grand et al7 compared the effect of two levels of palatability in three different types of test meals (conventional, semiliquid and sandwich), and they observed that high palatability increased intake only in the conventional meal, whereas there were no differences in intake in the semi-liquid and sandwich meals (see Table 1). In this study, appetite was measured using FPS, and the results showed no difference in effect of palatability in either of the meal types. In a study, by Hill et al,8 where the effect of palatability on appetite was measured solely using VAS, a difference in ratings of desire to eat was observed as soon as the subjects saw the food, the difference mostly being due to an increase in ratings in response to the highly preferred meal. The difference persisted throughout the meal declining only after the meal had ended8 (see Table 1). In addition, the investigators found that 2 h after the test meal, ratings of desire to eat and hunger were significantly higher after consumption of the preferred food.8

Table 1 Effect of palatability using preferred foods

Sweetness is a major contributor to palatability, although there are individual differences in optimal level of sweetness. In two studies, the palatability of the test food was manipulated by using yoghurt with different concentrations of the intense sweetener, aspartame, and sucrose, respectively, hereby making use of the subjects' preferences for sweet taste.31,32 In both studies, yoghurt intake was greater at the most preferred concentration than at all the other concentrations, and in the study using aspartame, spontaneous 24-h food intake was significantly greater following consumption of the preferred yoghurt, however, only in men.31

Speculations as to whether factors other than palatability could explain differences in appetite can be avoided by manipulating the palatability of the test foods by factors with little effect on the nutritional quality. To manipulate flavour in test meals adding mustard, spices such as oregano or cumin, citric acid or salt, or varying the quality of cheese have all been used.10,11,18,19,25,33,34 In addition, monosodium glutamate has been used to enhance palatability.35,36 All, but two,10,36 of the above-mentioned studies show increasing intake as palatability increased (see Table 2). All, but one,35 of the studies also investigated the effect of palatability on appetite using VAS and a wide range of results emerged when reviewing the studies: in Bobroff and Kissileff's25 study, subjects felt less hungry and more satiated after the palatable meal reflecting the larger amount eaten. Warwick et al10 found that after eating a palatable fixed preload, subjects felt less hungry and more full compared to eating a less palatable preload. In Yeomans'18 study from 1996, subjects felt no difference except for fullness, but this reflected the amount eaten by the subjects. De Graaf et al19 observed lower hunger ratings after the higher palatable preload, reflecting the larger amount eaten; after eating the fixed preloads, there was no difference in effect of palatability. Yeomans and Symes11 observed no differences in ratings in spite of the higher intake of the palatable meal. Zandstra et al34 manipulated pleasantness by varying the salt level and studied appetite over five successive days, and at day 1 they observed higher ratings for ‘faint with hunger’, ‘appetite for a snack’ and ‘appetite for a meal’ for low-palatable bread meals than for medium and high-palatable bread meals, and ratings for fullness were lower for the low-palatable bread meals, all ratings reflecting the lower intake of low-palatable bread meal. During the 5-day period, this was changed and the investigators concluded that with repeated exposure, the desire to eat and intake of a less preferred food could increase over time.34

Table 2 The effect of palatability

In agreement with the findings of Hill et al8 and Monneuse et al31, Rogers and Blundell36 observed that while there were no differences in test meal intake and feelings of hunger and desire to eat after consumption of preloads of different palatability, during the subsequent 3 h there was a more rapid recovery of feelings of hunger and desire to eat after the palatable preload compared both with the less palatable preload and no preload. In contrast De Graaf et al19 observed that neither hunger ratings nor food intake was affected by the pleasantness of the test foods 2 h after consumption, and Warwick et al.10 observed that although there was a greater decrease in hunger ratings following the palatable preloads, the sensory properties of the preloads did not influence the total caloric intake at lunch served 5 h later.

All the above-mentioned studies examining the effect of palatability on appetite have been carried out in laboratory environments, but we do not really know how much understanding these studies provide about the influence of palatability on the normal food intake of humans in their natural everyday environment. To investigate palatability influences on eating behaviour, De Castro et al37 made 54 French subjects maintain food intake diaries for four 7-day periods. The subjects recorded their intake along with palatability ratings of each individual item eaten and also a global rating of palatability, which was an overall rating of the entire meal. The results showed that higher levels of palatability were related to larger meal sizes. To extend these findings, De Castro et al38 conducted a similar study with 564 North Americans and this time the subjects recorded palatability only by global rating of the palatability of the entire meal. Meals that were rated higher in palatability were 44% larger than meals low in palatability.


The results from studies investigating the influence of palatability on appetite sensations in humans give an unclear picture, as increasing palatability in one study results in lower hunger and higher satiety ratings after consumption, but in other studies results in higher hunger and lower fullness ratings or in higher hunger ratings and unaffected fullness ratings, whereas others show no difference in effect of palatability. Studies also measuring the effect of palatability on energy intake (the ‘within-meal’ effect) show increased intake as palatability increases, no matter what the effect of palatability on the subjective appetite sensations is.

The effect of palatability on postprandial appetite sensations after a test meal (the ‘after-meal’ effect) has been examined in three studies, two showing a stimulating effect of palatability on subsequent appetite sensations and one study showing no difference. Two studies investigating the effect of palatability on subsequent energy intake showed a stimulating effect of palatability on energy intake and no difference in effect of palatability, respectively.

Sensory-specific satiety

When a food is eaten, it drops in ratings of pleasantness relative to foods that have not been eaten and this phenomenon is referred to as sensory-specific satiety.24 Although the term satiety is being used, appetite sensations are not necessarily assessed. The standard procedure to test sensory-specific satiety is to have moderately hungry subjects taste and rate the pleasantness of the sensory properties of small portions of foods. Following these initial ratings, one of the foods is offered as a meal and subjects eat as much as they want. At various times following this test meal, they taste and rate the foods tasted initially. Studies have shown that changes in the pleasantness of the foods occur immediately after consuming the test food and that the magnitude of these changes does not increase over time.21,39,40 This confirms that the development of sensory-specific satiety is related primarily to the sensory stimulation accompanying ingestion as opposed to the postabsorptive effects of consuming these foods. The duration of sensory-specific satiety is unknown; several studies show that drops in liking persist more than 1 h after consumption.39,40,41 Sensory-specific satiety may also have an effect on the decision to terminate a meal.42

What sensory properties of foods are involved in sensory-specific satiety? The best case is made for the gustatory sensations of saltiness and sweetness. Eating a savoury food to satiety invariably leads to a decrease in the pleasantness of that food and other savoury foods.20,23,43,44,45 The same phenomenon occurs when eating a sweet food to satiety.23,43,44,45 Other factors that could influence sensory-specific satiety have been examined. To study whether flavour intensity is involved in sensory-specific satiety, a weak tea and a strong tea were compared and the test showed an equivalent change in liking for both teas.46

The pleasantness of the sight of different foods consumed to satiety decreased more than the pleasantness of the sight of foods that had not been eaten.20 After eating sweets of one colour, the pleasantness of the taste of sweets eaten of that particular colour declined more than that of the noneaten sweets of other colours, although the sweets differed only in appearance.47 Changes in the shape of pasta (which affected both the appearance and the mouth feel of the pasta) led to a specific decrease in the pleasantness of the shape eaten.47 In another study, texture-specific satiety was observed but not to the same extent as taste-specific satiety.23 Taste and olfactory sensory-specific satiety can be produced by chewing samples of a food or by smelling the food for approximately as long as it would be in the mouth during a meal.48

The role of different macronutrients in sensory-specific satiety has been examined and different results have been reached. In several studies, no evidence of macronutrient specificity was obtained,21,40,49,50,51 but Johnson and Vickers52 observed a trend for high-protein foods to decrease more in liking than low-protein foods and Vandewater and Vickers22 found that higher-protein foods, when eaten in equal energy amounts, produced greater sensory-specific satiety than lower-protein foods (see Table 3). A study of the role of fibre in sensory-specific satiety showed no effect of a high-fibre treatment vs a low-fibre treatment when muffins or soup were matched closely on sensory characteristics.53 In two studies, Rolls et al41,49 observed that very lowcalorie foods produced sensory-specific satiety. Miller et al50 found that eating potato chips with high or low energy content did not influence sensory-specific satiety differently. While these results indicate that sensory-specific satiety does not depend on the energy content of the food, De Graaf et al45 and Johnson and Vickers40 observed that the extent of sensory-specific satiety for an eaten food increased with increases in the amount of energy and/or food eaten (see Table 4).

Table 3 Sensory-specific satiety — effect of macronutrients
Table 4 Sensory-specific satiety — effect of energy

In contrast to the studies described above where sensory-specific satiety has been investigated within a single meal, a long-term form of sensory-specific satiety has also been studied. Measures of the palatability of foods that the subjects had been eaten for many months was compared with measures of the palatability of other foods that the subjects had not been eating; the subjects were refugees from Ethiopia. The results indicated that monotony in the diet could develop a long-term form of sensory-specific satiety.54

In a study conducted by Kamphuis et al,51 fat-specific satiety during dinner with oil high in linoleic acid was shown after a 2-week treatment, while there was no reduction in total energy intake.


So far, flavour, texture and appearance-specific satieties have been identified, whereas studies on the role of macronutrients and the energy content of the food in sensory-specific satiety have given equivocal results. Different studies have shown that macronutrients and energy content play a role in sensory-specific satiety or that macronutrients and energy content are not a factor in sensory-specific satiety.

Variety and food intake

The sensory-specific satiety effect may have an important influence on the amount of food eaten. If satiety is specific to individual sensory properties of foods, then intake should be greater when a variety of foods are consumed together or consecutively as opposed to when a single food is served. Several studies have been carried out to investigate the impact of meals varying in sensory properties such as flavour, texture and appearance (see Table 5). Varying flavour has shown diverse results. Changes in only the flavour of sandwich filling led to a 15% enhancement of food intake when all three flavours were presented successively compared with intake of the favourite flavour.47 On the other hand, offering subjects a variety of flavours of yoghurts of the same colour and texture in succession did not enhance intake either over the complete meal or in any of the courses after the variety was introduced.43 In a study examining the impact of varying the colour of food, the presentation of a variety of colours of sweets did not affect food intake compared with consumption of the subjects' favourite colour, although sensory-specific satiety was observed.47 In the same study, changes in the shape of pasta led to a 14% enhancement of food intake when three shapes were offered compared with intake of the subjects' favourite shape.47 In another study, subjects received hors d'oeuvres of one kind in a single condition and three kinds of hors d'oeuvres distinctively different in appearance, flavour and texture in the variety condition. The subjects consumed greater amounts in the variety condition than in the no-variety condition, yet they did not show greater decreases in reported hunger.55 In two studies, serving sandwiches with different fillings induced an increase in meal size compared to serving sandwiches with just one kind of filling.28,29,43 In another study, yoghurts differing in flavour, appearance and texture were served in the variety condition and there was a 12.6% elevation of intake when the amount eaten in the variety condition was compared with the amount eaten of the most preferred yoghurt.43 In a study, where subjects were given a four-course lunch as either a varied meal with different food in each course, or as a plain meal with the same food in each course, energy intake was elevated by 60% in the varied meal primarily because of increased food consumption in the third and fourth courses.44 Another study showed that subjects ate more ice cream when offered three kinds of ice cream differing in flavour and colour than when offered only one kind of their own choosing.56 In a study, the influence of introducing a new food after repeated presentations of one food on food consumption was studied. Pizza or cheeseburger was served designed to vary in sensory properties such as flavour, texture and appearance. The presentation of the new food resulted in significantly greater caloric consumption than another serving of the same food (540 vs 180 kJ) with no influence on hunger or fullness.57 In yet another study, the investigators observed that when a uniform meal was consumed, subjects stopped eating when they felt satiated but not completely full, whereas when served a varied meal they did not stop eating until they felt satiated and completely full. The investigators concluded that in this condition, sensory characteristics of foods played an important role in controlling food intake and made the uniform meal more satiating than the varied one.58

Table 5 Effects of a variety meal compared with a no-variety meal

Examining the effect of increasing the variety of sensorily distinct but nutritionally identical foods on appetite, food intake and body weight, over 7 days, food and energy intake increased as the variety of foods increased. Intake amounted to 1.57, 1.76 and 1.97 × resting metabolic rate on the low-, medium- and high-variety treatments, respectively, although there was no diet effect on subjectively rated hunger.59


Increasing the variety of sensorily distinct foods that are almost identical in composition can increase food and energy intake and in the short to medium term alter energy balance. In the majority of the reviewed studies, subjective appetite sensations were either not reported or not monitored. Three studies have assessed subjective appetite sensations and in all three studies, variety increased intake, while there was no diet effect on hunger ratings.55,57,58

Long-term effects of altering the variety of foods on energy balance are yet to be determined.

Different stimuli

To examine whether the sensory properties of fat alone, that is ‘the fatty taste’, play a part in appetite regulation, the nonabsorbable fat substitute olestra was used to uncouple the sensory properties of fat from fat absorption and metabolism. Cream of broccoli soups was developed in three versions: fat-free, fat-free + olestra and high fat. Subsequent energy intake was not affected by the sensory properties or cognitive cues associated with the soups. Thus, no evidence indicated that fatty taste per se affects the regulation of energy intake.60 In contrast, Cecil et al61 observed that when a high-fat and a high-carbohydrate soup were administered intragastrically there was no difference in ratings of hunger and fullness and food intake between the two soups whereas when the two soups were ingested, the high-fat soup suppressed hunger, induced fullness and tended to reduce energy intake in a subsequent test meal more than the high-carbohydrate soup. The two soups were equienergetic and there was no difference in pleasantness of the two soups.

Cornell et al62 demonstrated that individual's food consumption could be affected by a period of pre-exposure to sensory aspects of food prior to eating. The combination of a brief taste and sight of either pizza or ice cream presented a few minutes prior to eating stimulated subjects to eat beyond the point of satiety. They also demonstrated that priming with a highly preferred food enhanced subsequent consumption of that food relative to another equally preferred but not primed food, even in satiated subjects. In a study investigating factors that promote the initiation of eating, Marcelino et al63 observed that appetite for pizza increased with hunger and after being visually exposed to the pizza, both factors acting independently. Desire to eat pizza depended on the visual quality of the pizza and also on hunger. In contrast, Fedoroff et al64 found that pre-exposure to the smell of baking pizza did not influence hunger ratings and food consumption compared to no exposure in subjects that had refrained from eating for 2 h prior to the experiment.

In a study testing the effect of temperature, vegetable juice was used as a preload. Male subjects experienced a greater reduction in their desire to eat following the cold preloads than after either the hot preloads or no preload condition.65 The men also had a significantly lower food intake following the cold preload compared to the no-preload condition. Temperature of the preloads did not affect either desire to eat or food intake in female subjects.

Sweetness and appetite

Besides the contribution of sweetness to palatability, there has been an interest in the effect of sweet taste per se on appetite; however, the role of sweet taste in appetite regulation is controversial. One way to investigate the influence of sweet taste has been to uncouple sweetness and energy so as to evaluate the relative contribution of each factor to the control of appetite. By substitution of an artificial sweetener for sugar in a beverage or food, its energy value is reduced while its sweetness is maintained and then the effect of the sweetened beverage or food on appetite can be compared with the effect of unsweetened beverage or food (see Table 6). Blundell and Hill66 reported an increase in motivation to eat and decreased ratings of fullness following the ingestion of an aspartame solution compared to ingestion of water, which is consistent with the hypothesis that sweet taste can stimulate hunger. Support for this view has come from other short-term studies showing a stimulating effect of sweet taste on hunger ratings when the sweetener was provided in the form of aqueous solutions, chewing gum or beverages9,67,68,69 and both hunger ratings and food intake when using fruit yoghurt as a vehicle.70 In contrast, several studies showed no effect of sweet taste on either hunger ratings or food intake when the sweetener was provided in the form of gelatine, corn flakes or fromage blanc71,72,73,74 or as aspartame- or saccharin-sweetened drinks.75,76,77,78,79

Table 6 Effects of sweet preload compared with unsweetened preload

Other studies have contributed to elucidate the role of sweet taste on appetite. Brala and Hagan80 showed that when subjects' ability to taste sweetness was attenuated by gymnemic acid, they ate less food after a sweet-tasting preload than did subjects whose taste perception was intact. These findings suggest that a sweet oral stimulation initiates reflexes that increase appetite. Rolls et al81 have studied the effect of eating a sweet food either as a first course or as a third course on food intake during a three-course lunch. The second course remained the same in the two conditions and the two courses that were to be interchanged were of similar energy densities and rated palatability, one course consisted of a chocolate bar and the other was cheese on crackers. There was no indication that eating candy as a first course affected appetite and food intake differently from eating the same amount of a cheese on crackers. In two experiments, De Graaf et al45 studied the hypothesis that if sweet taste sensation increases appetite then sweet carbohydrates must be less satiating than nonsweet carbohydrates. The results of the first experiment were consistent with the hypothesis, but the second experiment did not show any difference between sweet and nonsweet carbohydrates.


The role of sweet taste per se in appetite regulation is not fully clarified. Although some studies show a stimulating effect, most studies show no effect of sweet taste on appetite and food intake.


What physiological mechanisms are behind the possible effect of palatability on appetite and food intake? Study results imply that endogenous opioid peptides are involved in processes underlying the determination of palatability. In several studies using opioid antagonists, intake is reduced, but mainly for the foods that are rated as highly palatable.82,83,84,85,86 Hetherington et al,87 however, failed to find an effect of opioid antagonism on pleasantness ratings and intake. According to several animal studies, benzodiazepine may enhance food palatability and thereby increase meal size.88,89,90 The only study on humans, performed by Haney et al,91 showed that after administration of a benzodiazepine-receptor agonist, the number of eating occasions increased without altering meal size. Palatability, however, was not assessed.

Studies investigating the hypothesis that palatability and sweet taste have an effect on cephalic phase insulin release and diet-induced thermogenesis have shown different results. In some studies, the cephalic phase plasma insulin levels measured were lower when subjects were consuming an unpalatable meal than when consuming palatable food,92,93,94,95,96 while in a study using shamfeeding, no significant difference in the magnitude of cephalic phase insulin release was found between palatable and unpalatable food.97 Studies on the effect of sweet taste per se on cephalic phase insulin release failed to show insulin secretion after oral stimulation of sweet taste.98,99,100 Studies on the effect of diet-induced thermogenesis of palatable and unpalatable foods have shown different results. In some studies, diet-induced thermogenesis was significantly elevated after consumption of a palatable meal in comparison with an unpalatable meal,92,99,101,102 while others showed no difference in thermogenesis.96,103 Investigation of the effect of sweet taste on diet-induced thermogenesis showed that sweet taste has no effect.104

It has been speculated that sensory-specific satiety is caused by sensory adaptation, that is, the intensity of a food's flavour diminishes when there is a sensory-specific decrease in the pleasantness of the food. This does not seem to be the case, as studies have shown that changes in the pleasantness of a food do not appear to reflect changes in the perceived intensity of the foods.20,48 Instead of being related to changes in the sensory processing of responses to foods, sensory-specific satiety is more likely related to brain areas controlling motivation and the reward value of foods.105,106,107,108

Suggestions for future work

Results reviewed in this paper suggest that increased palatability increases food intake in the short term. The contradictory results found when assessing subjective appetite sensations may be a result of different study designs, but it is worth studying whether these diverse results in fact are due to different methodologies or whether there is a discrepancy between subjective appetite sensations and actual food intake when eating a palatable meal.

Sensory-specific satiety may influence the amount of food eaten, as increasing the variety of foods increases food intake. Thus, it may be that variety enhances the palatability of a meal and people therefore eat more. Here, as in the palatability studies, some interesting results appeared when subjective appetite sensations were assessed: in three studies, variety increased food intake without influencing subjective hunger ratings. This supports the idea that the amount of palatable food eaten may not be recognised and therefore subjective appetite ratings do not reflect the amount of food eaten.

Long-term studies of the consequences of food palatability and variety on food intake and energy balance carried out in everyday natural environments are needed.

Further investigation of the importance of flavour in appetite regulation is also needed, for example, if flavour is a factor in regulating food intake, knowledge about what flavour combinations improve satiety most is very useful in order to be able to produce low-energy foods that both taste good and increase satiety. This may be relevant because it will make it easier for people to maintain energy balance in the long term and prevent the development of overweight and obesity.

Does high-intense flavoured food satiate more than food low in flavour intensity? In a study comparing the consumption of a weak tea and a strong tea, a larger amount of the weak tea was consumed, although the sensory-specific satiety test showed an equivalent change in liking for both teas.46 The authors suggested that there in general was an overestimation of the hedonic value of high-intensity stimuli in the first presentation, and that low-intensity stimuli tended to be underestimated. Lucas and Bellisle27 and Pérez et al32 have made the same observations. These results seem to be opposite to the general finding that higher hedonic evaluation of a food leads to higher palatability. This is an important question and the circumstances under which higher hedonic scores are related to lower consumption should be investigated more thoroughly. Varying flavour intensity is one way by which this question could be approached.

Overall flavour of a food is determined mainly by the senses of taste, smell, mouth feel and chemesthesis.109,110 It is surprising that the separate chemesthetic sense has been neglected in studies relating palatability and satiety. In humans, sensory nerve endings from branches of the trigeminal nerve are found in the epithelia of the nose and oral cavity, and it is signals transmitted by these nerves that are responsible for the pungency of foods, as exemplified in carbonated drinks, chilli, ginger, mustard and horseradish. Without pungency, many foods would be bland, so it is obvious that the sense of chemesthesis plays a crucial role in evaluation of palatability. The sensation of oral pungency has many properties, that are not found in taste. Of potential interest for questions relating to palatability and satiety are the very different temporal properties of chemesthesis. Pungency typically has a slow onset, but can persist for prolonged periods, minutes to tens of minutes. This is contrary to the sense of taste, which is most intense for the few seconds the food is in the mouth. It would be worthwhile to investigate the effect of persistence of chemesthetic sensation on palatability and satiety, for example, by performing studies in which chemesthetic sensation is varied systematically.

Another area that would be relevant to investigate is the possible connection between genetic variation in taste and dietary intake. Sensitivity to the bitter taste of 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) is an inherited trait and individuals with the ability to taste the bitter substance are called supertasters or PROP tasters.111 Study results have suggested that PROP tasters have greater sensitivity to a wide range of oral stimuli, including bitter tastes associated with fruits and vegetables, various sweet tastes, the textural sensations of fats and the trigeminal irritation by chilli pepper and ethanol.112,113 Several studies report a negative relationship between PROP tasting and a liking for sweet and/or high-fat foods and some also found that the negative association between PROP tasting and liking for sweet or high-fat foods was stronger in women.114 In small samples of young women, Dabrila et al115 observed that supertasters tended to be thinner and, in a larger study, Duffy et al116 observed that PROP status was inversely related to body mass index (BMI). In yet another study, Tepper and Nurse,117 observed that BMI tended to be higher in medium tasters and nontasters compared to supertasters, although these differences were insignificant; BMI was not related to PROP taster status in women. In a later study, Tepper and Ullrich118 observed that there was an inverse relationship between PROP status and body weight in both sexes, but that dietary restraint masks this relationship in women. The above-mentioned observations suggest that there is a relationship between the genetic variations in taste perception, which affects food preferences, and dietary habits and with that, weight status. Further investigations are needed to clarify to what extent genetic variation in taste perception influences dietary habits and weight control.


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Correspondence to L B Sørensen.

Additional information

The study was supported by Orkla Foods AS, the Danish Dairy Research Foundation (Danish Dairy Board) and the Danish Government.

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Sørensen, L., Møller, P., Flint, A. et al. Effect of sensory perception of foods on appetite and food intake: a review of studies on humans. Int J Obes 27, 1152–1166 (2003).

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  • appetite
  • hunger
  • food intake
  • palatability
  • sensory-specific satiety
  • intensity

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