You should read this! 1: Comments by Hely Tuorila on “Difference taste thresholds for sodium chloride among young adults: an interlaboratory study”

Birgit Johansson, Birger Drake, Rose Marie Pangborn, Nina Barylko-Pikielna, Egon Peter Köster. Difference taste thresholds for sodium chloride among young adults: an interlaboratory study. Journal of Food Science 1973:38:524-527.

Comments by Hely Tuorila (June 2024)

Background. In 1960s, chemosensory research of food was in its infancy in Europe. The only textbook available was a U.S. based volume by Amerine, Pangborn and Roessler (1965). The middle author of the volume, Rose Marie Pangborn, spent a sabbatical at the leading Nordic food research institute SIK in Sweden in late 1960s, and the assumingly first European symposium in our area, “Sensory evaluation of food, principles and methods” was organized in September, 1968 at SIK, with 70 participants from 19 countries. During the symposium the authors of the paper (from Sweden, USA, Poland and the Netherlands) conceived the idea of working together to understand the high variability of reported sensory responses in literature.

Why important. The study investigates individual variability in response to sodium chloride with an interlaboratory collaboration. It appears to be simple, the report is short and the paper has been cited only 20 times by April 2024 (Scopus) but it is one of the first example of collaborative studies in the sensory field and it provides several lessons. Please pay attention to:

  • considerable effort to control different aspects of the experiment in four laboratories.
  • evidence showing that repeatable results can be achieved with proper planning.
  • the faithfulness to the psychophysical roots: classic psychophysics should be of value also for today’s researchers.
  • the importance of international mobility and collaboration in science. The U.S. researcher, “a raising star” Pangborn must have inspired European colleagues to establish this new branch of food research and to develop their own skills in the area.
  • the taste of NaCl continues being of fundamental importance for public health and for food manufacturers.

Design and results. Difference thresholds of NaCl at two standard levels were determined using a total of 924 panelists in four laboratories. The study protocol was written in detail and rigorous control of the experiment is described in the paper. Yet deviations from the process occurred, and they have been reported as possible sources of variability. Just-noticeable-differences (jnd), Weber ratios (Wr), and points of subjective equality (pse) are presented for each laboratory and separately for two sexes. The results are largely similar across the laboratories, and variations could be partly traced back to experimental conditions. Wr and jnd of the same magnitude have been later obtained with Australian and Japanese subjects (Laing et al 1993).

What followed. The collaboration of Swedish (Johansson, later Lundgren), Polish (Barylko-Pikielna) and U.S. (Pangborn) researchers continued, and a Swiss laboratory became part of the next study (Lundgren et al. 1976). In the last interlaboratory study of this series, participants from Brazil and Japan joined (Lundgren et al. 1978). The papers contain valuable information of the study topics and of challenges in chemosensory and interlaboratory research.


Amerine, M.A., Pagborn, R.M., Roessler, E.B. (1965). Principles of sensory evaluation of food. Academic Press, New York 1965.

Laing, D. G., Prescott, J., Bell, G. A., Gillmore, R., James, C., Best, D. J., Allen, S., Yoshida, M., & Yamazaki, K. (1993). A cross-cultural study of taste discrimination with Australians and Japanese. Chemical Senses, 18(2), 161–168.

Lundgren, B., Pangborn, R.M., Barylko-Pikielna, N., Daget, N. (1976). Difference taste thresholds for sucrose in water and in orange juice: an interlaboratory study. Chemical Senses, Volume 2, Issue 2, October 1976, Pages 157–176.

Lundgren, B., Jonsson, B., Pangborn, R.M., Sontag, A.M., Barylko-Pikielna, N., Pietrzak, E., dos Santo Carruti, R., Chaib Moraes, M.A. , Yoshida, M. (1978). Taste discrimination vs hedonic response to sucrose in coffee beverage. An interlaboratory study. Chemical Senses, Vol. 3, no 3, p. 249-265.

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