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Wang, Q. Sweetness Perception of Food/Beverages. Encyclopedia. Available online: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/11458 (accessed on 07 December 2023).
Wang Q. Sweetness Perception of Food/Beverages. Encyclopedia. Available at: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/11458. Accessed December 07, 2023.
Wang, Qian. "Sweetness Perception of Food/Beverages" Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/11458 (accessed December 07, 2023).
Wang, Q.(2021, June 29). Sweetness Perception of Food/Beverages. In Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/11458
Wang, Qian. "Sweetness Perception of Food/Beverages." Encyclopedia. Web. 29 June, 2021.
Sweetness Perception of Food/Beverages
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When it comes to eating and drinking, multiple factors from diverse sensory modalities have been shown to influence multisensory flavour perception and liking. These factors have heretofore been strictly divided into either those that are intrinsic to the food itself (e.g., food colour, aroma, texture), or those that are extrinsic to it (e.g., related to the packaging, receptacle or external environment).

sugar reduction multisensory integration intrinsic factors extrinsic factors sweetness perception

1. Introduction

Eating and drinking are amongst the most multisensory of the experiences that we have. When people think about the consumption of food and drink, the senses of taste and smell usually come to mind first. However, a growing body of research conducted over the last decade or two has increasingly demonstrated that all of our senses play a role in influencing flavour perception (see References [1][2][3] for reviews). For instance, recalling the experience of eating an apple will usually evoke not just taste and smell, but also its colour, weight, shape, its firmness, crunchiness, juiciness and even the sound of chewing and perhaps its provenance (e.g., supermarket, organic, local, or the tree in the backyard).
A large body of research now supports the view that both food-intrinsic sensory factors (e.g., product colour, aroma, texture, viscosity, etc.) as well as food-extrinsic factors (e.g., visual, olfactory, and tactile properties of product packaging or servingware, background music, ambient lighting, temperature and aroma, etc.) play a role in determining whether we accept and how we perceive food and beverages (e.g., for intrinsic factors [2][4][5] and for extrinsic factors [6][7][8][9][10][11][12]). What is less clear, however, is how these different factors interact and the relative importance of intrinsic and extrinsic factors to our perception of, not to mention our behaviour towards, food and drink.
In this review, we focus on how intrinsic and extrinsic factors can enhance the perception of sweetness in foods and beverages and address the question of how (and if) they can be combined in order to deliver an enhanced perception of sweetness. The decision to target the perception of sweetness is informed by the growing public health concern over excessive sugar consumption. The consumption of sweet foods has been argued to be one of the major contributors to the current obesity epidemic, with more than 3 million deaths globally each year [13][14][15][16]. Moreover, sugar reduction is of critical concern to major food and beverage companies such as PepsiCo, Givaudan, and Arla, who have been engaging in a number of major initiatives in order to reduce added sugars and develop naturally resourced sweeteners [17][18][19]. Therefore, a multisensory, psychological model of sweetness perception is especially important when it comes to the design of sugar-reduced/replaced foods and beverages.
Hutchings et al. [20] recently outlined four general strategies for sugar reduction. Sugar substitution, altering food structure (e.g., heterogeneously distributing sucrose, modifying tastant release, or reducing particle size), gradual long-term sugar reduction, and using the principles of multisensory integration. However, Hutchings et al. [20] do not address the role of product-extrinsic factors in sweetness perception.

2. Food-Intrinsic versus Food-Extrinsic Influences on Sweetness Perception

In the following section, we will target each sensory modality in turn and review the literature on the intrinsic and/or extrinsic cues regarding their influence on sweetness perception. Table 1 provides a representative summary of studies demonstrating sweetness enhancement effects from the influence of different sensory modalities.
Table 1. A representative selection of studies demonstrating sweetness enhancement via food-intrinsic and extrinsic sensory cues.

Study

Sense

Intrinsic or Extrinsic

Sweet Enhancing Stimuli

Control/Comparison Stimuli

Taste Stimuli

Scale

% Difference

Crisinel et al. (2012) [7]

Hearing

Extrinsic

Sweet soundtrack

Bitter soundtrack

Cinder toffee

1–9 rating (bitter–sweet)

15%

Höchenberger et al. (2018) [21]

Hearing

Extrinsic

Sweet soundtrack

Bitter soundtrack

Toffee

0–100 rating (bitter–sweet)

8%

Höchenberger et al. (2018) [21]

Hearing

Extrinsic

Sweet soundtrack

Bitter soundtrack

Toffee

0–100 rating (sweet, bitter, salt, sour)

No significant difference

Reinoso Carvalho et al. (2016) [9]

Hearing

Extrinsic

Sweet soundtrack

Bitter soundtrack

Belgian beer

1–7 rating sweetness

20%

Reinoso Carvalho et al. (2016) [9]

Hearing

Extrinsic

Sweet soundtrack

Sour soundtrack

Belgian beer

1–7 rating sweetness

20%

Reinoso Carvalho et al. (2017) [22]

Hearing

Extrinsic

Legato soundtrack

Staccato soundtrack

Dark chocolate

1–7 rating sweetness

11%

Wang and Spence, (2016) [23]

Hearing

Extrinsic

Consonant soundtrack

Dissonant soundtrack

Fruit juice (apple, orange, grapefruit)

1–10 rating (sour–sweet)

19%

Wang and Spence (2017) [24]

Hearing

Extrinsic

Consonant soundtrack

Dissonant soundtrack

Fruit juice (apple, orange, grapefruit)

0–10 rating (sour–sweet)

17%

Wang and Spence, (2017) [25]

Hearing

Extrinsic

Sweet soundtrack

Sour soundtrack

Off-dry white wine

0–10 rating sweetness

19%

Wang et al. (2019) [26]

Hearing

Extrinsic

Sweet soundtrack

Bitter soundtrack

Apple elderflower juice

1–9 rating sweetness

8%

Carvalho and Spence (2019) [27]

Sight

Extrinsic

Pink coffee cup

White coffee cup

Espresso

0–10 rating (sweetness)

30%

Clydesdale et al. (1992) [28]

Sight

Intrinsic

More red colouring

Less red colouring

Dry beverage base and sugar solution

1–7 rating sweetness

14%

Fairhurst et al. (2015) [29]

Sight

Both

Round plate and round food presentation

Angular plate and angular food presentation

Beetroot salad

0–10 rating sweetness

17%

Frank et al. (1989) [30]

Sight

Intrinsic

Red colouring

No colour

Sucrose solution

Rating sweetness

No effect

Hidaka and Shimoda (2014) [31]

Sight

Intrinsic

Pink solution

No colouring

Sucrose solution 4% and 6%

10 cm visual analogue scale (VAS) less–sweeter

40%

Johnson and Clydesdale (1982) [32]

Sight

Intrinsic

Darker red coloured solution

Lighter red reference solution

Sucrose solutions 2.7–5.3%

Magnitude estimation sweetness

2–10%

Lavin and Lawless (1998) [33]

Sight

Intrinsic

Darker red solution

Lighter red solution

Fruit beverage + aspartame to 9% sucrose level

1–9 category scale sweetness

10%

Lavin and Lawless (1998) [33]

Sight

Intrinsic

Lighter green solution

Darker green solution

Fruit beverage + aspartame to 9% sucrose level

1–9 category scale sweetness

8%

Maga (1974) [34]

Sight

Intrinsic

Red colouring

Green, yellow, uncoloured solutions

Sucrose solution

Recognition threshold

No effect

Pangborn and Hansen (1963) [35]

Sight

Intrinsic

Red solution

Green, yellow, uncoloured solutions

Pear nectar

Rating sweetness

No effect

Pangborn et al. (1963) [36]

Sight

Intrinsic

Pink colouring

Yellow, brown, light red, dark red colouring

White wine

Rating sweetness

Rose sweetest

Pangborn (1960) [37]

Sight

Intrinsic

Red colouring

Green, yellow, uncoloured solutions

Sucrose solution

2-AFC (alternative forced choice) which one sweeter

No effect

Pangborn (1960) [37]

Sight

Intrinsic

Red colouring

Green, yellow, uncoloured solutions

Pear nectar

2-AFC which one sweeter

No effect

Piqueras–Fiszman et al. (2012) [8]

Sight

Extrinsic

White plate

Black plate

Strawberry mousse

10 cm sweetness scale

15%

Stewart and Goss (2013) [38]

Sight

Extrinsic

White plate

Black plate

Cheesecake

10 cm sweetness scale

28%

Wang and Spence (2017) [24]

Sight

Extrinsic

Image of happy child

Image of sad child

Fruit juice (apple, orange, grapefruit)

0–10 rating (sour–sweet)

20%

Wang et al. (2017) [39]

Sight

Intrinsic

Round shape

Angular shape

Dark chocolate

1–9 rating expected sweetness

30%

Dalton et al. (2000) [40]

Smell

Extrinsic (Orthonasal)

Benzaldehyde odour (cherry almond aroma)

No odour

Saccharin solution

Threshold test

29% increase in benzaldehyde threshold in benz + saccharin condition

Delwiche and Heffelfinger (2005) [41]

Smell

Intrinsic (Retronasal)

Pineapple odour, high concentration

Pineapple odour, lower concentration

Aspartame/acesulfame potassium solution

2-AFC threshold detection

Additive taste-odour

Frank and Byram (1988) [42]

Smell

Intrinsic (Retronasal)

Strawberry odour

No odour

Sweetened whipped cream

0–20 rating sweetness

13% at 0.6 M and 1.2 M; 40% at 0.25 M

Frank et al., 1989 [30]

Smell

Intrinsic (Retronasal)

Strawberry odour

No odour

Sucrose solution

0–20 rating sweetness

~18% at 0.3 M, 7% at 0.5 M concentration

Schifferstein and Verlegh (1996) [43]

Smell

Intrinsic (Retronasal)

Strawberry odour, lemon odour

No odour

Sucrose solution

150 mm sweetness scale

25%

Wang et al. (2019) [26]

Smell

Intrinsic

Pomegranate aroma

No added aroma

Apple elderflower juice

1–9 rating sweetness

5%

Biggs et al. (2016) [44]

Touch

Extrinsic

Rough plate

Smooth plate

Biscuits

How did the biscuits taste?

Biscuits in smooth plate 3 times more likely to be rated as sweet compared to those in rough plate

van Rompay et al. (2016) [45]

Touch

Extrinsic

Rounded cup surface pattern

Angular cup surface pattern

Hot coffee and chocolate

1–7 rating sweetness

20%

Wang and Spence (2018) [46]

Touch

Extrinsic

Velvet swatch

Sandpaper swatch

Off-dry white wine (10 g/L)

1–9 rating sweetness

13%

Wang and Spence (2018) [46]

Touch

Extrinsic

Velvet swatch

Sandpaper swatch

Fortified red dessert wine (110 g/L)

1–7 rating sweetness

14%

3. A Neuroscientific Perspective on Sensory Interactions

3.1. The Role of Multisensory Flavour Perception

When it comes to rationalising multisensory integration, Gibson [47] proposed an ecological model whereby information about an object is processed and interpreted via different sensory channels, as part of an active process to acquire information about the environment (see Reference [1] for a review). Flavour perception, then, can be considered as a system that controls ingestion, with the goal of picking up all available information about the food that is about to enter the body in order to secure an adequate supply of nutrients and avoid poisons [48]. Moreover, this process can be considered in multiple stages: first, there is the pre-ingestion period when food is identified and expectations are formed—this is probably most naturally gathered via visual information, together with some degree of tactile (e.g., weight, surface texture, hardness), orthonasal olfactory, and auditory information (e.g., sizzling, fizzing, bubbling). Then, there is the actual eating/mastication period where additional properties of the food—such as its taste, retronasal aroma, texture, temperature and piquancy—are detected by various taste and oral-somatosensory receptors. These receptors serve to detect nutrients and poisons in the food [49][50]. At the same time, hedonic judgments are made continuously during ingestion as a way of motivating and curtailing ingestion (e.g., [51]). Finally, learned associations are formed between different sensory stimuli as a result of the eating process (e.g., many red-coloured fruits are ripe and sweet [52]).
Just as the tactile system combines disparate information from various parts of the body and various different classes of receptors to register invariant stimuli, this proposed flavour system combines information from all the senses in order to form flavour percepts that ultimately optimise nutrient intake. Viewed from this perspective, extrinsic information such as packaging colour or background sound can act to provide extra information about the food that one is about to taste or is currently tasting. According to Bayesian decision theory, the brain uses prior knowledge about what sensory signals go together—whether inborn or explicitly learned—to integrate appropriate sensory stimuli with the goal of maximising the reliability of perceived information [53][54][55] and, presumably, to reduce cognitive load by combining disparate sensory cues into a single object. Cross-modal correspondences involving sweetness (such as with round shapes or consonant harmonies), could act as a conduit (i.e., in the form of Bayesian priors) to help the brain interpret multisensory cues in order to help form taste/flavour evaluations.

3.2. Evidence of Multisensory Flavour Perception in the Brain

In humans, taste is first projected from the tongue and oral cavity to the primary taste cortex in an area of the anterior insula and frontal operculum (see References [56][57] for reviews), along with oral texture and temperature [58][59].

4. A Framework for How Intrinsic and Extrinsic Factors Influence Multisensory Flavour Perception

4.1. Differences between Exteroceptive and Interoceptive Senses

When thinking about the senses and their role in multisensory flavour perception, it can be helpful to distinguish between two categories: the exteroceptive sense of vision, audition, and orthonasal olfaction are typically stimulated prior to (and sometimes during) the consumption of food, and the interoceptive senses (retronasal olfaction, oral-somatosensation and gustation) are those that are stimulated during eating [60]. In the latter case, the relevant senses are taste, retronasal smell, oral-somatosensation and the sounds associated with the consumption of food. Different brain mechanisms may be involved in these two cases. Small et al. [61] found different and overlapping neurological representations of anticipatory and consummatory phases of eating; specifically, the amygdala and mediodorsal thalamus respond preferentially to odours associated with a nutritive drink, whereas the left insula/operculum responds preferentially to the consumption of the drink itself. The right insula/operculum and left OFC responded preferentially to both anticipatory and consumptive phases. Overall, it would seem likely that the multisensory integration of interoceptive flavour cues is more automatic than the combination of cues that is involved in interpreting exteroceptive food-related signals [1][62][63].
One of the most important means by which exteroceptive cues influence food perception relates to expectancy effects [64][65][66][67]. That is, visual appearance cues, orthonasal olfactory cues, and distal food sounds can all set up powerful expectations regarding the food that someone is about to eat. When the food or drink is then evaluated, assimilation may occur if there is only a small discrepancy between what was expected and what was provided. However, if the discrepancy between expectations and the actual interoceptive information is too large, then contrast may occur instead. Human neuroimaging and animal electrophysiology has shown that expectations can modulate sensory processing at both early and late stages, and the response modulation can be either dampened or enhanced (see References [68][69][70] for reviews).
Another example of differences between interoceptive and exteroceptive senses come from Koza et al. [71]. These researchers demonstrated that colour had a qualitatively different effect on the perception of orthonasally (interoceptive) versus retronasally (exteroceptive) presented odours associated with a commercial fruit-flavoured water drink (see also References [72][73]). In particular, they found that colouring the solutions red led to odour enhancement in those participants who sniffed the odour orthonasally, while leading to a reduction in perceived odour intensity when it was presented retronasally. The authors suggested that this surprising result may be accounted for by the fact that it may be more important for us to correctly evaluate foods once they have entered our mouths, since that is when they pose a greater risk of poisoning. By contrast, the threat of poisoning from foodstuffs located outside the mouth is less severe. Alternatively, however, it may well be that people simply attend more to the stimuli within their bodies as compared to those stimuli that are situated externally [55], and that this influence biased the pattern of sensory dominance that was reported.
Given the above considerations, rather than a food-intrinsic versus food-extrinsic divide, it may be more appropriate, with neuroscience and physiology in mind, to divide sensory cues depending on where it is referred. In other words, the key question to consider here is, is the sensory stimulus localised (or perceived to be) coming from within or outside the mouth?

4.2. Oral Referral

The importance of the oral cavity can be seen through the observation that flavours appear to originate from the oral cavity, even if olfactory stimuli are detected in the nose (e.g., [74][75][76], see Reference [77] for a review). In addition, the phenomenon of oral referral appears to go beyond merely changing the perceived location of olfactory stimuli; in fact, they are combined with taste information from the tongue to form integrated flavour percepts that cannot be attended to separately [74][78]. Notably, people find it difficult to attend selectively to olfactory stimuli after the stimuli have been localised in the mouth [78][79]. The loss of the source of olfactory information is most likely a result of gustatory attention capture (according to Reference [77]), where the most intense stimulus (normally taste) directs one’s attention to the spatial location where that stimulus comes from. This is supported by studies indicating that the degree of oral referral is proportional to the intensity of the tastants, and inversely proportional to the intensity of olfactory stimuli [76].
Intriguingly, the occurrence of oral referral also seems to be related to the degree of congruency between the oral and taste stimuli. Lim and Johnson [80] demonstrated that, when participants were introduced to a simultaneous retronasal odour (soy sauce, vanilla) and a taste solution (sweet, salty, water), they rated the odours as coming from the mouth significantly more often when the odour–taste combination was congruent (vanilla–sweet, soy sauce–salty) than when the solution was neutral or when the combination was incongruent. Further studies conducted with solid gelatine disks instead of liquid solutions [81], and with more ecologically valid stimulus combinations (citral aroma with sweet or sour tastants, coffee aroma with sweet or bitter tastants) revealed similar results where oral referral was enhanced proportional to the degree of self-reported smell–taste congruency [82]. In addition, more recent research supports the hypothesis that retronasal enhancement of odour by taste is dictated by the nutritive value of the tastants in addition to odour–taste congruency; sweet, salt, and umami tastes—which signal the presence of elements essential for survival—presented evidence of enhancing retronasal odour, but no such effect was seen for sour or bitter tastes [83]. In the context of sweetness perception, then, it certainly seems that multisensory cues localised in the mouth (such as food-intrinsic aroma or textural cues) would be more effective in enhancing sweetness perception than those cues localised elsewhere.

5. Combining Intrinsic and Extrinsic Influences

There has been relatively little research on the interaction between food-intrinsic and food-extrinsic factors. The available cognitive neuroscience research suggests that the biggest impact on our experiences and behaviours occur when several sensory attributes are changed at once, and when they complement one another [60]. This is precisely the sort of situation in which one might expect to see an additive response (both in the brain and in behaviour), a response that is far bigger than that which can be achieved by manipulating a single sense individually at a time [84][85].

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