John Hayes receives Buck Award in the Agricultural Sciences

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- John Hayes, assistant professor of food science in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, has received The 2012 Roy C. Buck Faculty Award in the Agricultural Sciences for his article, "Wine Expertise Predicts Taste Phenotype."

The award recognizes the best refereed article published in a scholarly journal in the previous two years by an untenured faculty member in the college whose research involves the social or human sciences. Hayes's article was published in the March 2012 issue of the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture.

Hayes co-wrote the article with Gary Pickering, professor of biological sciences and psychology, and researcher at the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University, St. Catharines, Canada.

The article contends that wine experts are more likely to be "medium-tasters" or "supertasters" than other wine consumers, so wine consumers may wish to use caution in adopting wine expert endorsements or recommendations.

"Assessment of wine quality is dependent on both experience (and resulting expectancies) and liking, which is associated with taste responsiveness," the article concludes. "Both of these appear to vary between wine authority figures and wine consumers."

Taste phenotypes have been studied in relation to alcohol intake, dependence and family history with contradictory findings, the the authors noted.

"However, on balance -- with appropriate caveats about populations tested, outcomes measured, and psychophysical methods used -- an association between variation in taste responsiveness and some alcohol behaviors is supported," they wrote. "Recent work suggests supertasting associates not only with heightened response but also with more acute discrimination between stimuli."

The article reports on a sample of wine drinkers who were recruited in Ontario and phenotyped for taste acuity using a bitter chemical commonly used in taste research . Study participants also completed a short questionnaire regarding willingness to try new foods, alcoholic beverages and wines, as well as level of wine involvement, which was used to classify each one as a wine expert or a wine consumer.

In logisitic models, food adventurousness predicted trying new wines and beverages, but not expertise, the article explained. "Likewise, wine expertise predicted willingness to try new wines and beverages but not foods. In separate logistic models, willingness to try new wines and beverages was predicted by expertise and food adventurousness."

Among study participants, bitterness intensity was higher among wine experts than wine consumers on average, according to the article. In contrast, greater bitterness did not seem to affect food adventurousness. These data, the paper noted, "suggest individuals may self-select for specific professions based on sensory ability, but [taste] phenotype does not explain willingness to try new stimuli."

Hayes' research group studies food choice within a biobehavioral framework, integrating traditional sensory science methods with behavioral genetics to understand biological factors that may cause individuals to like and consume some foods but not others.

Special emphasis is given to foods and beverages that have a strong potential health impact.

Research in his laboratory focuses on the psychophysics of taste and flavor perception; quantifying the impact of genetic variation in food sensations and reward; understanding how this variation may or may not influence patterns of food intake; identifying factors that drive the consumption or avoidance of alcohol, bitter phytonutrient rich vegetables, and fat/sugar mixtures; and acquisition of preference for initially aversive stimuli, such as the burn from chilies or black coffee.

Hayes received a bachelor's degree in food science from Cornell University in 1998, a master's degree in food science-sensory science from Cornell in 2000 and a doctorate in nutrition from the University of Connecticut in 2007. He was a postdoctoral scholar at Brown University, where he studied alcohol/behavioral genetics, and earned a graduate certificate at the University of Connecticut in quantitative research methods (psychology).

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Last Updated March 25, 2013