Researchers from Duke University Medical Center, Monell Chemical Senses Center and three Norwegian institutions asked people with different variations of an odor receptor gene to rate the taste and smell of several pork meat samples. The particular receptor is sensitive to androstenone, a steroid similar to testosterone found in male pigs.
Those with one version of the gene rated the pork samples more favorably in taste and smell than others, leading scientists conclude that genetics play a significant role in how we perceive what’s delicious.
Participants had wildly different reactions to androstenone:
While some subjects are insensitive to androstenone, others are highly sensitive and will react negatively upon exposure. Androstenone in meat has been associated with flavours described as urine-like, etching (ammonia), pungent and sour.
The study also cites a recent survey that identifies 39 percent of Norwegian consumers as sensitive to the compound, with negative reactions to higher levels of it. But most people in North America and Europe don’t notice androstenone at all, because male pigs are usually castrated and the concentration of the compound is quite low as a result. That might change though, as the European Union mulls a castration ban on the grounds of humane treatment.
At any rate, the researchers suggest meat with less androstenone might sell better in the marketplace. Still, taste can’t be explained by one single variable.
ABC News spoke with Monell Chemical Senses Center’s director, Gary Beauchamp, on the subject. “When food is in your mouth, odors come from the back of the throat up to the nose,” he said. “Taste is very complex. It depends on smell and other factors, such as personal experience and genetic background.”