According to a study with 8,900 Danish schoolchildren, girls have a better sense of taste than boys, while boys have a sweeter tooth than girls. One in three children prefers soft drinks which are not sweet, and children and young people love fish and do not think of themselves as being fussy eaters.
The study is reportedly the world's largest on the ability of children and young people to taste and their preferences.
"It is quite clear that children and young people are very good tasters, and that there are bigger variations between them than most people would expect. There is, for example, a marked difference between boys and girls, and the ability of children to recognise tastes changes with age,” said project leader Bodil Allesen-Holm from the University of Copenhagen.
“So one could easily develop more varied food products and snacks for children and young people. For example, it is quite clear that children do not necessarily prefer sweet things. According to the findings, healthy snacks could easily be developed for boys with slightly extreme and sour flavours."
The results could help food formulators to better understand preferences and tastes of young children and teenagers.
Conducted jointly by Danish Science Communication, food scientists from The Faculty of Life Sciences (LIFE) at University of Copenhagen, the study also found that girls generally prefer milder flavours, while boys tend to like the more extreme flavours.
Furthermore, boys were found to prefer super sweet soft drinks, and they also gave top marks to the sourest samples.
How it was tone
The ‘mass experiment’ was made possible by sending all the participating groups of children a complete kit of taster samples and very detailed instructions. The children and their teachers then conducted the experiment as part of their natural science classes.
Various tests included measuring the number of taste buds, quantifying the children’s sweet and sour tastes thresholds, and answering questions on their eating habits and fussiness over food.
"What is most surprising is that the results are so clear and of such a high quality," said Allesen-Holm. "The trends are very clear in all the answers from the many primary and secondary schools: the pupils and teachers have been very thorough and accurate."
The same but different
Both boys and girls have the same number of taste buds, reports the study. “According to the figures, boys need an average of approximately 10 per cent more sourness and approximately 20 per cent more sweetness to recognise the taste. So it would appear that what makes the difference is the way in which boys and girls process taste impressions," said co-researcher Michael Bom Frost, an associate professor at LIFE.
Furthermore, the researchers found that one in three schoolchildren would prefer non-sugary soft drinks.
"This is new. In other words, soft drinks for children and young people do not always have to contain a lot of sugar," said Allesen-Holm.
When a child becomes a teenager, changes to their food preferences and tastes were noted. The ability to recognise tastes increases gradually with age, and the greatest shift is seen at 13-14 years when children become markedly more sensitive to sour tastes, said the researchers. This is accompanied by a waning in their love of very sweet flavours.