PENN STATE (US)—Low-salt foods leave some consumers with a bad taste in their mouths— make that no taste at all.

U.S. citizens consume two to three times the amount of salt recommended for good health. Diets high in salt can increase the risk of high blood pressure and stroke, but reduced salt foods may be harder for some people to like than others, says John Hayes, assistant professor of food science at Penn State University and lead investigator of a new study.

“Most of us like the taste of salt. However, some individuals eat more salt, both because they like the taste of saltiness more, and also because it is needed to block other unpleasant tastes in food,” Hayes says.

“Supertasters, people who experience tastes more intensely, consume more salt than do nontasters. Snack foods have saltiness as their primary flavor, and at least for these foods, more is better, so the supertasters seem to like them more.”

The study is published in the June 16 issue of Physiology & Behavior.

The research involved 87 carefully screened participants who sampled salty foods such as broth, chips, and pretzels, on multiple occasions, spread out over weeks. Test subjects were 45 men and 42 women, reportedly healthy, ranging in age from 20 to 40 years.

The sample was composed of individuals who were not actively modifying their dietary intake and did not smoke cigarettes. They rated the intensity of taste on a commonly used scientific scale, ranging from barely detectable to strongest sensation of any kind.

Supertasters also need higher levels of salt to block unpleasant bitter tastes in foods such as cheese, Hayes notes.

“For example, cheese is a wonderful blend of dairy flavors from fermented milk, but also bitter tastes from ripening that are blocked by salt. A supertaster finds low-salt cheese unpleasant because the bitterness is too pronounced.”

Supertasters live in a neon food world, Hayes notes. Nontasters, on the other extreme, live in a pastel food world.

“Individuals who experience more bitterness also perceive more saltiness in table salt, more sweetness from table sugar, more burn from chili peppers, and more tingle from carbonated drinks.”

“Interestingly, nontasters may be more likely to add salt to foods at the table because they need more salt to reach the same level of perceived saltiness as a supertaster,” he explains. “However, most of the salt we consume comes from salt added to processed foods and not from the salt shaker.”

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