Send to

Choose Destination
Physiol Behav. 2011 Oct 24;104(5):666-74. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2011.07.011. Epub 2011 Jul 28.

Perception and hedonic value of basic tastes in domestic ruminants.

Author information

INRA, UR1213 Herbivores, F-63122 Saint-Genès-Champanelle, France.


Taste is one of the five senses that give ruminants and other animals an awareness of their environment, especially for food selection. The sense of taste, which recognizes sweet, bitter, salty, sour and umami basic tastes, is often considered of paramount importance as it is the last sense in use before foods are swallowed. It thus plays a fundamental biological role in aiding animals to regulate intake of suitable food and reject unsuitable food. However, despite potentially relevant production and welfare issues, only a few studies have investigated how ruminants perceive and evaluate the basic tastes. Here we review current knowledge on tasting abilities and hedonic value of basic tastes in domestic ruminants via the analysis of both their anatomical and neurological structures and their behavioral preferences. Studies of the organization and functioning of the anatomical and neurological structures responsible for the perception of taste in ruminants have shown that sheep, cattle and goats all have lingual receptors for all five basic tastes. However, these studies have mainly focused on the sweet and bitter tastes. They have shown in particular that cows have fewer genes coding for the bitter receptors than other mammals, making them more tolerant to this taste. This pattern has been linked to the differences in the range of toxins and so potentially in the occurrence of bitterness encountered by different species in their environment, depending on the nature of their diet. Studies of ruminant feeding behavior have shown that the taste inducing the greatest consensus in preferences is the umami taste, with a high positive hedonic value. The bitter taste seems to have a rather negative hedonic value, the salty taste either a positive or a negative one depending on body needs, while the sweet taste seems to have a positive value in cattle and goats but not in sheep. Finally, the hedonic value of the sour taste is uncertain. Besides the hedonic value, the animal may assign a signal value to the tastes. In ruminants, the unanimous preference for the umami taste, the need dependent preference for the salty taste, and the reluctance of sheep to associate a positive reward with the bitter taste suggest that these tastes would signal the presence of proteins, minerals and toxins, respectively.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center