The development of salty taste acceptance is related to dietary
experience in human infants: a prospective study1–3
Leslie J Stein, Beverly J Cowart, and Gary K Beauchamp
Background: Sodium intake is related to hypertension and other
diseases, but little is known about the early development of salty
Objective: The prospective study asked whether dietary experience
with foods containing sodium is associated with development of
infant salty taste preference.
Design: Infants (n = 61) were tested at 2 and 6 mo to assess their
response to 0.17 and 0.34 mol NaCl/L in water. Intake tests consisted
of randomized double-blind 120-s exposure to salt solutions and
water. Acceptance, calculated as solution intake relative to water,
was examined as a function of exposure to starchy table food—a sig-
nificant source of sodium. Dietary exposure (yes or no) was defined
by maternal report. As a control, similar comparisons were based on
exposure to fruit table food. A subset of 26 subjects returned at 36–48
mo for assessment of salty taste hedonics and preference.
Results: Dietary experience was related to salt acceptance, with
only those infants previously exposed to starchy table foods (n =
26) preferring the salty solutions at 6 mo (P = 0.007). Fruit exposure
was not associated with sodium chloride acceptance. Infants eating
starchy table foods at 6 mo were more likely to lick salt from the
surface of foods at preschool age (P = 0.007) and tended to be more
likely to eat plain salt (P = 0.08).
Conclusions: The findings suggest an influential role of early di-
etary experience in shaping salty taste responses of infants and
young children.Am J Clin Nutr 2012;94:123–9.
Overconsumption of sodium, primarily in the form of salt
(sodium chloride), is associated with an increased incidence of
hypertension, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease
and stroke (1–4). This relation has led health agencies worldwide
to call for a reduction in sodium consumption, most recently
evidenced by the revised US Dietary Guidelines (5). Because
sodium is believed to be the ligand for salty taste (6), a more
comprehensive understanding of the factors that drive salt con-
sumption is needed to help develop effective and successful
strategies to reduce sodium intake.
A major factor underlying excess sodium consumption is the
human preference for salted foods. Although this preference
likely is shaped by innate components, dietary experience also
contributes significantly to the liking for salt. Most experiential
studies have been conducted in adults (7, 8), but a few suggest
that early experiences, both in utero (9–12) and during infancy
(11, 13), may shape the preference for salty taste.
At birth, human infants are either insensitive or indifferent to
salty taste (14, 15), with development of the ability to detect and
respond to salty tastes thought to occur over the first 6 mo of
postnatal life (16). To further examine the relation between early
sodium exposure and the development of salty taste acceptance,
in the development of salty taste preference (17), infants exposed
to starchy table foods would have an elevated salt preference at
;6 mo of age compared with infants not yet exposed to these
foods. Starchy foods were selected because, after cow milk,
processed grain products account for the second greatest dietary
source of sodium during the weaning period (18), and cereal
products constitute the major source of sodium as the infant
continues to grow (19).
We assessed salty taste acceptance in infants at 2 mo of age,
before significant variation in postnatal sodium intake and again
in thesameinfantsat 6 mo,after theintroductionofsupplemental
feeding, including starchy table foods, in some of the infants.
The decision of whether and when to introduce such foods was
made by the infants’ caregivers; thus, infants were not randomly
assigned to groups. Additionally, in an initial exploration of the
persistence of the sodium exposure–salt avidity relation, a subset
SUBJECTS AND METHODS
The data reported here were obtained from subjects enrolled
between November 1988 and May 1996 into a longitudinal study
of preference for salty taste, as reported previously (13). Briefly,
120 infants and their mothers were enrolled into a prospective
study; infants ranged in age from 3 to 84 d at study entry. The
subjects were recruited from the Philadelphia metropolitan area
during well-baby visits at a low-income infant health clinic,
through advertisements in regional parent-oriented periodicals
and through flyers distributed at several suburban nursery
schools.Criteria forinfantinclusion wereoverallgoodhealthand
1From Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, PA.
2Supported by the NIH (DC 00882).
3Address correspondence to LJ Stein, Monell Chemical Senses Center,
3500 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-3308. E-mail: stein@monell.
Received February 17, 2011. Accepted for publication September 15, 2011.
Am J Clin Nutr 2012;94:123–9. Printed in USA. ? 2012 American Society for Nutrition
birth weight .2500 g (the criterion for normal birth weight),
which was selected as a partial proxy for a healthy pregnancy.
The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of
the University of Pennsylvania. Informed consent was obtained
from mothers, who were paid for their participation.
Salt intake and taste preferences
Data on salt intake and taste preferencewere collected from 86
infants at both 2 and 6 mo postnatal age. All testing was per-
formed at the Monell Center. Information on infant feeding
practices was obtained from questionnaires completed by
mothers at each visit. Detailed questions probed history of breast
compared with formula feeding and supplemental feeding
practices. Mothersalsowereasked whethertheir infants hadbeen
introduced to baby foods, table foods, or both. The terms baby
food and table food were not defined, nor were specific examples
of the table food categories given. However, baby food is
commonly understood in both the vernacular and scientific lit-
erature to refer to foods made specifically for infants and
younger toddlers, whereas table food is food consumed by older
children and adults. If affirmative for table foods, mothers were
asked to indicate whether the infants were eating any of the
following categories of table food: starch, fruit, vegetable, meat,
dairy products, or eggs. Demographic information and birth
weight were obtained through maternal report at the first as-
Acceptance of salty taste
Methods to determine acceptance of salty taste in infants were
as previously described (12, 16). Infants completed brief intake
tests for water and 2 concentrations of sodium chloride (0.17 and
0.34 mol/L, dissolved in deionized water). These concentrations
or similar have been used in previous studies from this laboratory
the level of salt found in commercial soups, whereas the higher is
a concentration reported by most adults to taste “strongly salty.”
Solutions were prepared by using reagent-grade sodium chloride
and presented to infants in standard plastic baby bottles with
disposable nipples. Time of testing reflected schedules of in-
dividual mother-infant dyads. Each bottle contained 30 mL
deionized water or one of the 2 salt solutions. When the mother
and infant had acclimated to the testing room, the 3 bottles were
presented in double-blind randomized order for 60 s each, with
had been presented, there was a 60-s rest period, after which
the order was reversed and each bottle was presented for an
additional 60 s. Bottles were weighed after each series of pre-
sentations to the nearest 0.1 g to determine intake. Salt accep-
tance was assessed by using the proportional intake of each
sodium chloride solution relative to the combined intake of that
concentration of sodium chloride solution and deionized water
[g NaCl solution/g (water + NaCl solution)]. Total sodium
chloride intake (g) ingested at each age was computed by using
the combined intake of the 0.17- and 0.34-mol/L solutions.
Early dietary experience and salt acceptance at 36–48 mo
Twenty-six of the children tested at both 2 and 6 mo returned
for additional assessment at preschool age (36–48 mo). These
children were part of a subset of 38 subjects tested at this age,
recalled in order of enrollment until financial constraints pro-
hibited additional testing. At this visit, mothers again completed
detailed questionnaires on the children’s feeding histories and
current food preferences.
A separate questionnaire assessed the child’s salt-directed
behaviors by asking mothers to rate how often the child exhibited
the following behaviors related to the taste and use of salt: eats
plain salt, licks salt from foods, adds salt to food before tasting it,
and adds salt to inappropriate foods (eg, an orange). Each be-
havior was rated on a 4-point scale ranging from “never” to
“daily.” The 4 scores were summed to create a salt-directed
behavior score. As a control, a parallel questionnaire asked the
same questions about sugar-related behaviors.
Liking and preference for salt were evaluated independently in
preschoolers, because these measures are believed to represent
independent constructs (20). The children’s “liking for salty
foods” was assessed by each mother using a 5-point category
scale to indicate her child’s liking of 27 common table foods that
varied in degree of perceived saltiness (21). Scale anchors were
“a favorite” and “will not eat.” A mean liking score was com-
puted for the 10 foods previously judged by an independent
panel of adults to taste most salty (21), with lower scores rep-
resenting greater liking. This score served as a proxy for the
child’s liking of high-salt foods. A similar procedure using the 9
least salty-tasting foods created a score representing liking for
low-salt foods. Similar scores were computed for the foods as
a function of sweetness and were used as controls to evaluate the
specificity of early dietary experience with salty taste. Foods
used to construct the scores are listed in Table 1.
To assess preference for salty foods, children used a 2-step
ranking procedure modified from Birch et al (22) to indicate
relative preference for 7 snack foods (potato chips, pretzels,
chocolate candies, pickles, dried banana chips, bacon bits, and
shortbread cookies). Four foods (potato chips, pickles, pretzels,
and bacon bits) were classified by convention to be salty, and the
remaining 3 foods were similarly classified as sweet. Foods were
presented individually in randomized order. Children were asked
to taste each food and to categorize their response as “like” or
“dislike.” Liking was indicated by sharing the food with a doll
representing a popular cheerful television character (Big Bird),
whereas disliked foods weregiven to a familiar grumpy character
Foods used to construct liking scores for preschool sensory assessments1
High salt Low saltHigh sweetLow sweet
1Adapted from Beauchamp et al (21). Mothers rated their child’s liking
of each food on a 5-point category scale. Foods were assigned to categories
on the basis of perceptual ratings of an adult panel.
STEIN ET AL
doll(Oscar theGrouch) to “putin histrashcan” (11).After all the
foods were categorized in this fashion, the children were asked to
rank order the liked foods using the question, “Which of these
foods is the yummiest (or, do you like best?).” After responding,
either verbally or by pointing, the children were allowed to
sample the food; it then was removed from view, and the process
was repeated with the remaining foods in that category. With
dislikedfood,childrenwere asked,“Which foodis theyuckiest?”
When complete, this procedure produced a complete ranking of
the 7 foods. Ranks of the 4 salty foods were summed to compute
a salty food preference score; lower scores indicate higher
Determination of relative intake requires that subjects taste
each solution. Accordingly, the analysis was restricted to those
infants who ingested a minimum of 0.3 g (the approximate
volume of one suck) of each of the 3 solutions at both 2 and 6 mo
Associations of dietary history with salt acceptance were in-
vestigated by using ANOVA, with age and concentration as
within-subject factors and feeding history as a between-subject
factor.Separateanalyses wereconducted for2 foodcategories, as
defined by the mothers’ responses: starchy table food and fruit
table food. Because birth weight is inversely associated with salt
acceptance at 2 mo of age (12), birth weight was entered as
a covariate in each analysis. Group differences were assessed by
using post hoc t tests. Kendall’s s was used to test associations of
salt intake and preference at 6 mo with measures of liking and
preference at preschool age. Unless otherwise stated, the results
are reported as means 6 SEMs. A significance value of P ,
0.05 was used for all analyses, which were performed with
Statistica data analysis software (version 9.1, 2010; StatSoft
Of the 120 subjects who entered the prospective study, 86
(72%) remained enrolled at 6 mo of age. Reasons for subject loss
were not formally assessed, but appeared to be related to parental
disinterest and scheduling difficulties.
Because they failed to consume the minimum ingestion cri-
terion (?0.3 g of each of the 3 test fluids) at both 2 and 6 mo of
age, 24 infants were excluded from the analyses. The excluded
infants did not appear to manifest a generalized salt aversion,
because mean intakes of the salt solutions did not differ between
the excluded and the remaining infants (Table 2). The excluded
infants and those remaining did not differ in birth weight, sex,
race-ethnicity, feeding method (formula, breast, or both) at 2 mo
of age, age at the 2-mo assessment, extent of mothers’ educa-
tion, or family income. The annual family income of 65.2%
of the excluded infants and of 67.2% of the remaining infants
was ,$50,000. Mothers of excluded infants were younger than
mothers of infants who remained in the study [26.2 6 1.53 y
compared with 30.0 6 0.81 y; t(83) = 2.11, P , 0.05], and the
excluded infants were slightly older than the remaining infants
at the 6-mo assessment [196 6 2.8 d compared with 189 6 1.8
d; t(83) = 22.39, P , 0.05]. Data from one additional infant
were excluded because of measurement error. As a result, intake
data were available for 61 infants at both 2 and 6 mo of age. The
demographic characteristics of the 61 infant-mother dyads are
detailed in Table 3.
The infants’ feeding practices at 6 mo of age are summarized
in Table 4. According to maternal report, almost all (90.2%) of
the infants had been introduced to complementary first-stage
baby food and approximately half (48%) had some experience
with table food. The mothers indicated that infants eating table
food were primarily receiving starchy table food (43% of all
infants), followed by fruit (30%). The mothers’ education level
was not related to the introduction of table food before 6 mo of
age. However, given that 40 families were earning ,$50,000
and 20 were earning more (one subject did not report income),
lower-income mothers were more likely to have introduced their
infants to starchy table foods by 6 mo of age (P , 0.001).
Six mothers indicated that their infants had salt added to their
food, either at the table or in cooking: 3 of those infants were
receiving starchy table food and 3 were not. Of these 6 infants, 2
whohad been introducedtofruit table foodhad saltaddedto their
food and 4 had not. Infant birth weight, formula and breast
feeding status, maternal age, and maternal education leveldidnot
differ between infants eating and not eating starchy table foods
(data not shown).
Fluid intake of excluded and included infants
Age and fluid
(n = 61)
(n = 24)
0.17 mol NaCl/L
0.34 mol NaCl/L
0.17 mol NaCl/L
0.34 mol NaCl/L
7.4 6 0.861
7.3 6 0.88
5.3 6 0.72
12.1 6 3.02
10.8 6 2.6
7.7 6 1.9
11.0 6 1.40
11.2 6 1.28
11.6 6 1.47
10.4 6 2.1
13.8 6 2.0
10.9 6 2.2
1All values are means 6 SEMs.
2Included compared with excluded infants: t(83) = 2.08 (P , 0.05).
Demographic characteristics of the 61 mother-infant dyads
Birth weight (kg)
Maternal age (y)2
Maternal education (y)
Hispanic, Asian, other
2-mo assessment age (d)
6-mo assessment age (d)
3.42 6 0.11
29.8 6 0.8
14.8 6 0.4
64.7 6 1.0
188 6 1.8
1Mean 6 SEM (all such values).
2n = 59.
INFANT DIETARY EXPOSURE AND SALT PREFERENCE
Salt solution consumption and acceptance
Sodium chloride acceptance
As shown in Figure 1, dietary experience was associated with
an age-related shift of salt acceptance. Acceptance of both
concentrations of sodium chloride increased from indifference
(0.17 mol NaCl/L) or rejection (0.34 mol NaCl/L) at 2 mo to
preference at 6 mo, but this shift was observed only in those
infants who had prior experience with starchy table foods (age ·
experience; P = 0.047). The relation between dietary experience
and an increase of salty taste acceptance was specific to starchy
table foods, as intake of table-food fruit did not influence so-
dium chloride acceptance (age · experience; NS). As a result,
only those infants who had been exposed to starchy table foods
displayed a preference for the salty solutions at 6 mo of age,
(age · experience; P = 0.007). A similar analysis performed
with starchy baby food was insignificant, perhaps reflecting the
fact that infant cereals are manufactured with little to no added
sodium. Additional analyses examining the influence of expo-
sure to meat, vegetables, dairy products, and egg table foods also
had insignificant results, although it should be noted that only
a small number of infants had been introduced to each of these
food groups (Table 4). A final multiple regression analysis failed
to identify an influence of exposure to the combined table-food
groups (other than starch) on salt preference at 6 mo.
Sodium chloride intake
Previous dietary experience with starchy table foods also was
associated with the infants’ overall intake of sodium chloride
during testing at 6 mo of age, with exposed infants ingesting 55%
more sodium chloride than those who were not yet eating these
foods [t(59) = 2.29, P = 0.026]. This effect again was specific to
experience with starchy table food, because experience with
table-food fruit was not related to sodium chloride intake at 6
mo (Table 5).
Inspection of intake volumes (Table 6) showed that exposure
to starchy table food was related to increased consumption of the
more concentrated 0.34-mol/L solution (age · experience; P =
0.01). Intakes of water and the 0.17-mol/L solution were not
related to dietary experience.
Dietary experience and salt acceptance at preschool age
A subset of 26 children returned for additional assessment at
preschool-age children who had been introduced to starchy table
food by 6 mo of agewere more likely to lick salt from the surface
of foods (Mann-Whitney U = 34.5, P = 0.007). There was also
a trend for these children to be more likely to eat plain salt
(Mann-Whitney U = 54.0, P = 0.08). Similar findings were not
evident for sugar-directed behaviors, and early experience with
fruit table food was not associated with salt-directed or sweet-
Salt liking at preschool age was related to responsiveness to
sodium chloride at 6 mo. The preschool child’s overall salt di-
rected behavior score was associated with both preference for the
0.17-mol/L solution (s = 0.404, P , 0.01) and overall intake of
sodium chloride (s = 0.397, P , 0.01) at 6 mo of age.. Early
Infant feeding practices at 6 mo of age as reported by mothers
6-mo milk feeding
FIGURE 1. Acceptance of salt solutions as a function of age and
experience with starchy table foods at 6 mo. Age · experience interaction:
F[1,58]= 4.11, P , 0.047. Acceptance calculated as follows: solution intake/
(solution + water intake); values .0.5 indicate preference, and values ,0.5
Sodium chloride ingested during a 6-min intake test as a function of
exposure to table food1
No (n = 35)Yes (n = 26) No (n = 43)Yes (n = 18)
0.172 6 0.027
0.278 6 0.044
0.191 6 0.031
0.432 6 0.051
0.177 6 0.024
0.322 6 0.041
0.187 6 0.037
0.395 6 0.063
1All values are means 6 SEMs. Sodium chloride ingested calculated
from the combined intake of 0.17- and 0.34-mol/L solutions. Intake was
analyzed by using 2 · 2 (experience · age) ANOVA for starch and fruit.
Age · experience interaction for starchy table foods: F[1,58] = 6.18 (P ,
0.02). All other effects were not significant.
2Table food consumed by infants at 6 mo, defined by maternal report.
STEIN ET AL
dietary experience was not related to other measures of salt
liking or acceptance at preschool age (Table 7).
The findings of this study suggest an influential role of early
dietary experience in shaping the salty taste responses of infants
and preschoolers. Specifically, salt acceptance increased from
indifference or rejection at 2 mo to preference at 6 mo only in
those infants who had been introduced to starchy table foods,
most of which contain sodium. In contrast, the salt-related he-
donic response of infants having no experiencewith starchy table
foods did not shift during that same time period, remaining
negative at 6 mo of age. As such, at 6 mo of age, the salty taste
preference of infants exposed to starchy table foods was elevated
relative to infants who were not yet eating these foods.
taste responses was tested in a small subset of subjects. Although
these results must be viewed as preliminary, early exposure to
starchy table foods and the corresponding elevated preference for
salty taste at 6 mo of age were associated with 2 measures of
increased liking for the taste of salt at preschool age. Similar
relations were not apparent for exposure to fruit-based table food
at either 6 mo or preschool age.
It is important to note that any conclusions from this study are
limited by its correlational nature and that an experimental study
is needed to firmly prove causation. Whereas the sodium content
of the foods was not recorded or measured, baby foods—espe-
cially those given to younger infants—typically are low in so-
transition their infants to table foods contribute substantially to
the adequate sodium intake (370 mg/d) recommended by the
Institute of Medicine for 7- to 12-mo-old infants (23). Such foods
often include ready-to-eat cereal such as Cheerios (106 mg Na/
0.12 L; General Mills), packaged instant wheat cereal (120 g Na/
0.5 package), mashed potatoes with milk and margarine (350 mg
Na/0.12 L), and toaster waffles (130 mg Na/0.5 waffle) (24).
reflect a response to the presence of sodium or to the taste of salt.
More knowledge is needed regarding the development of the un-
derlying mechanisms that detect sodium and transmit information
on salty taste before that question can be conclusively addressed.
The development of the human hedonic response to salty taste
differs from the responses to sweet and bitter, both of which are
evident at birth (14, 15). In contrast, the positive response to salty
taste appears to mature postnatally (16, 26). The timing and
underlying physiologic and sensory triggers for this transition
remain not well understood. Human infants are indifferent to or
reject salt solutions at birth (14–16) and through the first several
months of life (16, 25–27). The extent of this response remains
unclear and may be related in part to prenatal factors (12). By 6
mo of age, infants have been reported to prefer salty solutions to
plain water, a developmental shift that has been interpreted to
reflect postnatal maturation of underlying salt-detection mech-
anisms (16). Another, not mutually exclusive, possibility is that
indifference to acceptance (17). The results of the current study
and acceptance of salty solutions at 6 mo of age were associated
with and possibly influenced by prior dietary experience.
Taste development appears to be shaped by several sensitive
periods. During the prenatal period, maternal physiologic per-
turbations such as severe emesis or dehydration can lead to
prolonged shifts in offspring sodium sensitivity and the hedonic
Fluid consumed during a 2-min intake test as a function of exposure to table-food categories, by age1
No (n = 35)Yes (n = 26)No (n = 43)Yes (n = 18)
0 mol NaCl/L
0.17 mol NaCl/L
0.34 mol NaCl/L3
7.13 6 1.10
10.10 6 1.50
7.85 6 1.28
12.10 6 1.75
7.06 6 0.99
10.67 6 1.36
8.35 6 1.53
11.63 6 2.11
6.76 6 1.02
9.44 6 1.54
8.08 6 1.18
13.68 6 1.76
7.02 6 0.92
10.65 6 1.40
8.02 6 1.42
12.66 6 2.16
5.23 6 0.93
9.26 6 1.53
5.57 6 1.08
14.86 6 1.77
5.38 6 0.84
10.86 6 1.43
5.37 6 1.30
13.53 6 2.21
1All values are means 6 SEMs. Intake was analyzed with the use of separate 2 · 2 (experience · age) ANOVA for
starch and fruit at each concentration.
2Table food consumed by infants at 6 mo, defined by maternal report.
3Age · experience interaction for starchy table foods: F[1,58]= 7.07 (P = 0.01). All other effects were not significant.
Salt and sweet food liking and preference scores of preschool-age children
as a function of early exposure to starchy table foods
Experience with starchy table foods
Preference: lower-salt foods1
Preference: higher-salt foods1
Liking rank: salty foods2
Liking rank: sweet foods3
4.50 6 0.09 (11)2
4.01 6 0.18 (11)
3.98 6 0.17 (11)
4.03 6 0.22 (11)
4.29 6 0.14 (14)
4.01 6 0.16 (12)
4.23 6 0.16 (13)
3.65 6 0.20 (14)
1All values are means 6 SEMs; n in parentheses. Children’s prefer-
ences reported by mother using a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (“a favorite”)
to 5 (“will not eat”). See Table 1 for foods used to construct scores.
2Mean 6 SEM; n in parentheses (all such values).
3Child’s ranking of liking for 7 snack foods (4 salty foods and 3 sweet
foods); 1 indicates “most liked.” See text for details and list of foods.
INFANT DIETARY EXPOSURE AND SALT PREFERENCE
response to salt (9–11, 13). Postnatally, the first 6 mo of life are
increasingly thought to represent a second sensitive period for
sour hydrolysate formulas accept these formulas easily, but only if
an enduring influence, because children raised on these same
formulas have an enhanced liking for certain bitter tasting vege-
tables at 6–11 mo (29) and for sour beverages at 5 y of age (30).
In the current study, 6-mo-old infants exposed to starchy table
foods increased their intake of the stronger salt solution, which
had a concentration typically considered to be strongly salty by
adults. These findings are consistent with a role for early dietary
experience in determining the set point for what is considered
normal salty taste (31). This premise is supported by the finding
that infants introduced to starchy table foods by 6 mo had an
results are similar to those from another study, in which an earlier
introduction to table foods was associated with a higher salt
intake at preschool age (19). However, it also remains possible
that early exposure to sodium or salty taste may have reduced
a neophobic reaction to the salty solutions, thus increasing intake
relative to unexposed infants. Likewise, children introduced to
high-sodium foods at an early age could continue to be fed, and
prefer, such foods later in life.
Preference is a strong predictor of food choice and intake in
young children (32), which suggests that an elevated preference
for salty taste could lead to increased intake of higher-sodium
foods during early childhood. Early food preferences also predict
preferences later in life, both during childhood (33) and adult-
hood (34). As such, events promoting heightened avidity for salt
during early development could potentially set in place a self-
perpetuating cycle of salt preference and ingestion that could
become particularly entrenched in high-sodium environments.
Such a cycle is suggested by the relations observed in the current
study. This could lead these infants to continue to eat more salt
later in life (19). If lower-income families introduce starchy table
foods to their infants at a younger age, this segment of the
population may be particularly in need of nutritional education to
point out potential health-related ramifications.
Although early experience with starchy table foods was as-
sociated with an affinity for the taste of plain salt at preschool
age, a similar relation was not observed for salty table foods as
assessed by the liking for salty foods scale and the preference for
salty foods measurement. Several factors can be invoked to
explain this finding. The food-liking scale was developed for use
like higher concentrations of saltiness relative to adults (35) and
are still in the neophobic stage of food acceptance (36). Because
children have a strong biological inclination toward sweet taste
ability to detect salt-related dietary effects.
In conclusion, the current findings showed a relation between
early dietary experience and liking for the taste of salt, both in
infants and at preschool age. Additional studies are needed to test
later salt preference. Future research should also explore the
long-term consequences of these associations and whether early
experience with the taste of salt in young infants is a predictor of
future sodium intake, blood pressure, or other health-related
We thank the many technicians who assisted with this study.
LJS, BJC, and GKB: wrote the manuscript; and LJS: had primary responsi-
bility for the finalcontent. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors had no conflicts of interest to declare.
1. Stamler J. The INTERSALT Study: background, methods, findings,
and implications. Am J Clin Nutr 1997;65(suppl):626S–42S.
2. Strazzullo P, D’Elia L, Kandala NB, Cappuccio FP. Salt intake, stroke,
and cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ
3. Morrison AC, Ness RB. Sodium intake and cardiovascular disease.
Annu Rev Public Health 2011;32:71–90.
4. He FJ, McGregor GA. A comprehensive review on salt and health and
current experience of worldwide salt reduction programmes. J Hum
5. US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Health and Human
Services. Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th ed. Washington,
DC: US Government Printing Office, 2010.
6. McCaughey SA, Scott TR. The taste of sodium. Neurosci Biobehav
7. Bertino M, Beauchamp GK, Engelman K. Long-term reduction in di-
etary sodium alters the taste of salt. Am J Clin Nutr 1982;36:1134–44.
8. Beauchamp GK, Bertino M, Burke D, Engelman K. Experimental
sodium depletion and salt taste in normal human volunteers. Am J Clin
9. Crystal SR, Bernstein IL. Morning sickness: impact on offspring salt
preference. Appetite 1995;25:231–40.
10. Crystal SR, Bernstein IL. Infant salt preference and mother’s morning
sickness. Appetite 1998;30:297–307.
11. Leshem M. Salt preference in adolescence is predicted by common
prenatal and infantile mineralofluid loss. Physiol Behav 1998;63:699–
12. Stein LJ, Cowart BJ, Beauchamp GK. Salty taste acceptance by infants
and young children is related to birth weight: longitudinal analysis of
infants within the normal birth weight range. Eur J Clin Nutr 2006;60:
13. Stein LJ, Cowart BJ, Epstein AN, Pilot LJ, Laskin CR, Beauchamp GK.
Increased liking for salty foods in adolescents exposed during infancy to
a chloride-deficient feeding formula. Appetite 1996;27:65–77.
14. Rosenstein D, Oster H. Differential facial responses to four basic tastes
in newborns. Child Dev 1988;59:1555–68.
15. Desor JA, Maller O, Andrews K. Ingestive responses of human new-
borns to salty, sour, and bitter stimuli. J Comp Physiol Psychol 1975;
16. Beauchamp GK, Cowart BJ, Moran M. Developmental changes in salt
acceptability in human infants. Dev Psychobiol 1986;19:17–25.
17. Harris G, Booth DA. Infants’ preference for salt in food: its de-
pendence upon recent dietary experience. J Reprod Infant Psychol
18. Heird WC, Ziegler P, Reidy K, Briefel R. Current electrolyte intakes of
infants and toddlers. J Am Diet Assoc 2006;106(suppl 1):S43–51.
19. Yeung DL, Leung M, Pennell MD. Relationship between sodium in-
take in infancy and at 4 years of age. Nutr Res 1984;4:553–60.
20. Berridge KC. Food reward: brain substrates of wanting and liking.
Neurosci Biobehav Rev 1996;20:1–25.
21. Beauchamp GK, Bertino M, Engelman K. Human salt appetite. In
Friedman MI, Tordoff MG, Kare MR, eds. Chemical senses. Vol 4.
Nutrition and appetite. New York, NY: Marcel Dekker, 1991:85–107.
22. Birch LL, Marlin DW, Rotter J. Eating as the ‘means’ activity in
a contingency: effects on young children’s food preference. Child Dev
23. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference in-
takes for water, potassium, sodium, chloride, and sulfate. Washington,
DC: National Academy Press, 2005.
24. US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. USDA
national nutrient database for standard reference, release 23. Internet: http:
//www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=8964 (cited 16 July 2011).
25. Steiner JE, Glaser D, Hawilo ME, Berridge KC. Comparative expres-
sion of hedonic impact: affective reactions to taste by human infants
and other primates. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2001;25:53–74.
STEIN ET AL
26. Beauchamp GK, Cowart BJ, Mennella JA, Marsh RR. Infant salt taste:
developmental, methodological, and contextual factors. Dev Psycho-
27. Cowart BJ, Beauchamp GK. The importance of sensory context
in young children’s acceptance of salty tastes. Child Dev 1986;57:
28. Mennella JA, Lukasewycz LD, Castor SM, Beauchamp GK. The
timing and duration of a sensitive period in human flavor learning:
a randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2011;93:1019–24.
29. Mennella JA, Kennedy JM, Beauchamp GK. Vegetable acceptance by
infants: effects of formula flavors. Early Hum Dev 2006;82:463–8.
30. Liem DG, Mennella JA. Sweet and sour preferences during childhood:
role of early experiences. Dev Psychobiol 2002;41:388–95.
31. Curtis KS, Krause EG, Wong DL, Contreras RJ. Gestational and early
postnatal dietary NaCl levels affect NaCl intake, but not stimulated
water intake, by adult rats. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol
32. Birch LL, Fisher JA. Appetite and eating behavior in children. Pediatr
Clin North Am 1995;42:931–53.
33. Skinner JD, Carruth BR, Wendy B, Ziegler PJ. Children’s food pref-
erences: a longitudinal analysis. J Am Diet Assoc 2002;102:1638–47.
34. Schwartz C, Issanchou S, Nicklaus S. Developmental changes in the
acceptance of the five basic tastes in the first year of life. Br J Nutr
35. Desor JA, Greene LS, Maller O. Preferences for sweet and salty in 9- to
15-year-old and adult humans. Science 1975;190:686–7.
36. Pelchat ML, Pliner P. “Try it. You’ll like it.” Effects of information on
willingness to try novel foods. Appetite 1995;24:153–65.
37. Mennella JA, Lukasewycz LD, Griffith JW, Beauchamp GK. Evalua-
tion of the Monell forced-choice, paired-comparison tracking pro-
cedure for determining sweet taste preferences across the lifespan.
Chem Senses 2011;36:34–55.
38. Ventura AK, Mennella JA. Innate and learned preferences for sweet taste
during childhood. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2011;14:379–84.
INFANT DIETARY EXPOSURE AND SALT PREFERENCE