Study Reveals 1 in 8 Adults Enjoy Extreme Sour Tastes

A new study has uncovered that about one in eight adults have a surprising fondness for intensely sour foods, challenging the long-standing belief that adults generally avoid tartness.

A recent study by Penn State researchers has uncovered that approximately one in eight adults have a surprising fondness for intensely sour foods, challenging the long-standing belief that adults generally avoid tartness.

Sour Patch Adults

In a world where most grown-ups seem to prefer sweet over sour, a new study has left a surprising taste in the mouths of researchers.

John Hayes of Penn State and his team discovered that a significant portion of adults, roughly one in eight, actually crave the face-puckering sensation of extremely sour foods.

The findings, published pn March 6, 2024 in the journal Food Quality and Preference, suggest that the love some children have for tart candies like Warheads and Sour Patch Kids may last well into adulthood.

Hayes explained that while previous studies have shown that about one in three children enjoy intensely sour things, this is the first time it’s been convincingly demonstrated that a segment of adults also like strongly sour foods.

A Tale of Two Sour Cities

To put the widespread belief that adults generally dislike sourness to the test, the researchers embarked on a cross-cultural study involving participants from two different food cultures – Italy and the United States.

They measured the responses of 143 American adults to various levels of citric acid in water and 350 Italian adults to pear juice spiked with varying amounts of citric acid.

Participants, who were similar in age, gender, and ethnicity, were selected from metropolitan areas in Tuscany, Italy, and State College, Pennsylvania.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that the proportions of “sour likers” were remarkably similar in both countries, with about 11% to 12% of adults falling into this category.

Sara Spinelli, a researcher from the University of Florence and first author on the paper, noted that despite the vast differences between Italian and American food cultures, the nearly identical percentages suggest that the preference for sourness is not solely influenced by prior exposure to certain foods, but may be an innate characteristic.

Sour Likers: More Than Meets the Taste Bud

The study also shed light on the common misconception that “sour likers” simply have less sensitive taste buds.

The researchers found that these individuals actually experience the same level of sourness as others but simply enjoy it more.

Hayes emphasized the importance of looking at individual differences and potential consumer segments rather than merely averaging responses across all individuals within a group.

By understanding these unique taste profiles, food manufacturers could develop products tailored to the “sour liker” segment, potentially promoting healthier, less sweet options that still satisfy their cravings for a tart twist.

The researchers believe that this type of segmentation could ultimately serve to encourage the consumption of healthier foods and beverages that are lower in sweetness but still acceptable to consumers.

Study Details

  • Title: Distinct sensory hedonic functions for sourness in adults
  • Authors: Sara Spinelli, Helene Hopfer, Victor Moulinier, John Prescott, Erminio Monteleone, John E. Hayes
  • Journal: Food Quality and Preference
  • Volume and Issue: Volume 116
  • Publication Date: March 6, 2024
  • DOI: