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Appetite 39 (2002) 167-173
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Relationships between threshold-based PROP sensitivity and food preferences of Tunisians
Patrick Pasquet1, B. Oberti2, J. El Ati2, Claude Marcel Hladik1

The extent to which taste responses - and notably the genetically determined sensitivity to 6-npropylthiouracil (PROP) - influences food preferences and food use is still a matter of debate. We addressed the issue on the basis of a behavioural and anthropological study performed in Tunis in 1999. The working sample consists of 123 adults of both sexes (38 men, 85 women), aged 19 to 59, in various social categories. Taste recognition thresholds for sucrose, fructose, sodium chloride, quinine hydrochloride, citric acid, tannic acid, oak tannin and PROP were determined by presenting, in a semi-randomised order (blind-test), series of graded aqueous solutions of each product. Subjects also tasted and rated the pleasantness/unpleasantness of 4 supra-threshold solutions of NaCl and sucrose. All subjects completed a checklist of 43 food items representative of Tunisian diet, rated in terms of flavour, cost, effect on health and prestige on a Labelled Affective Magnitude (LAM) scale. According to the underlying distribution of PROP thresholds, the subjects were separated into three categories: "non-tasters", "medium-threshold tasters", and "low-threshold tasters". Results bring out the specificity of low-threshold tasters, as exhibiting a greater taste sensitivity for most tested substances. Low-threshold taster status is also linked to higher mean food preferences ratings irrespective of sex, age and socio-cultural influences. Tasters as a group (medium-threshold tasters + low-threshold tasters) do not exhibit a higher percentage of food dislikes; however PROP sensitivity is negatively correlated with hedonic responses to NaCl solutions. These results together with the evidence of a limited set of food actually used by low-threshold tasters suggest that these subjects might have difficulties at overcoming an inherent neophobia.
1 :  EAE - Eco-Anthropologie et Ethnobiologie
2 :  département de physique de la faculté des sciences de Tunis