How sweet is sugar actually?
The golden standard for a sweet taste is the sweetness of granulated sugar. The sweetening power of sugar (sucrose) is 1. Other sweet compounds are compared to the sweetening power of sugar. Milk sugar (= lactose) for example, is less sweet than sugar with a sweetening power of 0.4. Fruit sugar (=fructose) on the other hand is 1.2-1.8 times sweeter. Polyols (bulk sweeteners) are sugars derivatives and in general less sweet than sucrose. High-intensity sweeteners are many times sweeter (200 times in case of aspartame) and have a bitter or metal-like after taste.
Where in the mouth do we register a sweet taste?
Sweet is registered everywhere on the tongue. The so called taste receptor cells which can detect the basic tastes (i.e. sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami), are located on the front, sides, as well as the back of the tongue. People used to think that a sweet taste could only be registered at the tip of the tongue. Now we know each basic taste is detected by a specific taste receptor cell located everywhere on the tongue. The sweet taste receptor cell for example, can detect sweetness, but not saltiness, sourness, bitterness or umami.
Can you get used to sweetness?
Yes, you can. Research shows that babies who were additionally fed with a sugar solution had a higher preference for sweet than babies without additional feeding. In children it is known that repeated exposure to sweet increases the appreciation for it. This also applies for other tastes, such as saltiness, bitterness and foods like vegetables, fruits and cheese. In adults habituation only seems to work for new tastes, not for existing tastes like sweet.
Does the preference for sweet change throughout the years?
Yes, the preference for sweet changes throughout our lives. The preference for sweet is highest in children and decreases during adolescence until the phase of ‘preference for moderate sweetness’ is reached in adulthood. This is the result from several studies. Research also shows that a general taste reduction develops in the elderly, so the basic tastes are not detected as well as in younger people. Therefore, elderly people need more sugar than younger people to reach an optimally preferred sweetness.