ESR2 Importance of sensory sensitivity for food perception among children (preadolescents)

Photo CC: Joe Urrutia/Nofima


(1) To map sensory sensitivity levels for the five basic tastes and fattiness in preadolescent children and study relationships between these; (2)  To uncover relationships between sensory sensitivity, hedonic preferences, food neophobia/pickiness and body weight status in preadolescent children; (3) To investigate children’s sensitivity to sugar reduction thresholds and acceptance of sugar-reduced products; (4) To develop age-specific methods for measuring sensory sensitivity in preadolescent children. Proposed approaches may include rating, sorting tasks, stated preference and habits questionnaires, and study of the children’s density of taste buds


(1) Academic secondment at UNIFI during 6 months with collaborations with ESR3 on data collection

(2) Applied secondment in a local industry (Tine) for 4 months, directed to explore children’s sensitivity to and acceptance of sugar-reduced dairy products. An experimental design will be used and may include sugar-reduced products, but also including sweeteners, sweetness enhancers, and/or combinations of these strategies. Was not conducted due to the pandemic situation only people needed for production where allowed to production facilities during the pandemic.

Summary of findings

This study has investigated children’s taste sensitivity and the relation between taste sensitivity, liking and eating behaviour. The project was a part of WP2 in the Edulia project

There were 352 preadolescents who participated in this study. Both real food samples and single taste compounds dissolved in water solution, were employed to measure taste sensitivity in children. In addition, children’s taste sensitivity was measured by several approaches. Namely using taste modality recognition, detection and recognition threshold, and perceived taste intensity. Data from the children’s parents regarding their child’s eating behaviour and food propensities were also collected using an online questionnaire. Food propensity questionnaires (FPQs) provide information for long term intakes and food group consumption.

Bitter and sour taste sensitivity can influence liking

We found that preadolescents with low detection and recognition thresholds to bitter and sour taste, which means that they sensed these tastes even in low concentrations, had a lower liking for grapefruit juice. Additionally, children with the lowest responsiveness to bitterness and sourness, or in other words, did not find the taste very intense, increased their liking of grapefruit juice in parallel with the addition of sucrose. Taste sensitivity was also associated with the liking of fatty food. These results indicate that individual differences in taste and fattiness sensitivity can influence the food liking of preadolescents. However, we did not find a similar pattern of liking with the vegetable broth sample, suggesting that the relationship between taste sensitivity and hedonic responses in preadolescents are taste- and product- dependent and subject-dependent. Our study confirmed that preadolescents have higher preferences for sweetness and an aversion to bitterness and sourness.

Taste sensitivity and eating behaviour

We have found that taste sensitivity measured by the detection threshold was associated with preadolescents’ eating behaviour and no association was found between taste sensitivity and frequency of consumption of certain foods. Further, we discovered a positive association between food approach behaviour and Body Mass Index (BMI) in preadolescent children, while food avoidance behaviour showed a negative association.

Correlation between taste sensitivity measurements and bitterness perception

We have measured the taste sensitivity of the preadolescents with different approaches.  The correlation between the different methods were weak, indicating that different measurements may capture different aspects of taste perception. Preadolescents also demonstrate to have a different perception of intensity and liking of bitterness from two bitter compounds of caffeine and quinine.

Recommendation for further studies

Based on our study, we also found that the different taste carriers and methods to evaluate taste sensitivity and hedonic responses may generate different results. Selecting the most suitable method and type of taste carrier should be considered for future studies. We also suggest using a larger number of participants to confirm the findings found based on our study.


In conclusion, this study suggests that preadolescent children have different sensitivity perceptions across different basic tastes and that these individual differences influenced their liking.

Testimonial about the Edulia program and thoughts for future carrier

I really enjoyed my time as an ESR2 with Nofima in Norway. The program allowed me to learn new skills in the subject of sensory science. The people behind the project are very supportive and provided me with constructive feedback regarding my Ph.D. project. Moreover, the working environment was very inclusive with teams from various multicultural backgrounds. The secondment and training program in Edulia allowed me to increase my networking and be exposed to new skills. Overall, it was a great time to take my Ph.D. with Edulia!

I had already planned to work in the field of academia after completing my Ph.D. And so, after finishing my studies, I became a full-time faculty member, working as a subject content coordinator at one of the largest and top-ranking universities in Indonesia, Binus University ( One of the modules that I developed is sensory evaluation. I am able to apply the knowledge and skills that I learned during my time working with Edulia to my current role as an educator.

Papers by Ervina

Ervina, E., I. Berget, A. Nilsen, and V.L. Almli (2020), The ability of 10–11-year-old children to identify basic tastes and their liking towards unfamiliar foods. Food Quality and Preference, 83: p. 103929.

Ervina, E., I. Berget, and V. L. Almli (2020), Investigating the Relationships between Basic Tastes Sensitivities, Fattiness Sensitivity, and Food Liking in 11-Year-Old Children. Foods, 9(9): p. 1315.

Ervina Ervina, Ingunn Berget, & Valérie L. Almli. (2020). Investigating the Relationships between Basic Tastes Sensitivities, Fattiness Sensitivity, and Food Liking in 11-Year-Old Children.

Ervina, E., Berget, I., Skeie, S., & L. Almli, V. (2021). Basic taste sensitivity, eating behaviour, and propensity of dairy foods of preadolescent children: How are they related? Open Research Europe, 1(127). doi:10.12688/openreseurope.14117.1

Blog posts by Ervina

Why children like candies and tend to reject broccoli?

A remote sensory testing during Covid-19 pandemic with preadolescents

Measuring basic tastes and fattiness sensitivity in preadolescents and the relation to children’s food liking

Make the sensory testing fun for preadolescents! The use of gamification in the sensory test setup with children


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