Robin Tucker

Robin Tucker Profile Picture
Ingestive Behavior

Mentor / Lab:
Dr. Richard Mattes/Laboratory for Sensory and Ingestive Studies

Specific Research Area / Project:
Human Oral Non-Esterified Fatty Acid Detection

Undergraduate Institution:
Creighton University

Research Profile:

My broad research interests can be described by one question: why do we eat what we eat? Some studies have found associations between high-fat diets and obesity. My dissertation research examines how non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA) are detected in the oral cavity. The knowledge we are accumulating will have wide-ranging applications in the food industry. Developing reduced-fat products that are virtually undetectable from their full-fat counterparts could help people reduce their energy intake and have a beneficial effect on body weight.

Only in the past 10-15 years has the belief that humans can actually taste NEFA grown in acceptance. Previously, it was thought that NEFA were detected by olfaction and mouth-feel alone. The work done in our lab has greatly contributed to this growing acceptance. My research has demonstrated a learning effect when it comes to NEFA detection, which could, in theory, result in decreased product acceptance with repeated exposure. We are currently finishing a study that seeks to determine if there are fundamental differences in NEFA sensitivity between lean and overweight individuals. If there are differences, products could be designed for lean and for overweight individuals to maximize acceptance. We are also interested in genetic and environmental factors influencing NEFA taste sensitivity and are working on designing a study to tackle these questions.

The implications of the work are far-reaching, including: understanding the basic biology of a sensory system (a new basic taste); informing clinical practice (understanding taste disorders); impacting public health (dietary fat exposure modulates lipid metabolism, so the number of eating occasions may be important); and influencing the food industry (development of improved fat replacers to promote dietary adherence to lower-fat diets). It is difficult to say in which direction NEFA taste research will go, but one of the things that drew me to this field was the challenge of its infancy.

About Me:

Robin Tucker About Me Picture

I am a dietitian by training. As a dietitian, you focus on everything that happens after food is ingested: digestion, absorption, and metabolism. When I came to Purdue and joined the Ingestive Behavior Research Center, I was exposed to the psychological and physiological aspects of what happens in the mind and body before food is consumed. How better to work on the obesity problem than by studying what influences our ingestive decisions in the first place?


  • Best Interdisciplinary Graduate Program Presentation (Ingestive Behavior) Purdue University Office of Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs, 2013
  • NIH/NCATS- Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute – TL1 Program, Pre-doctoral Fellow, 2012 - 2013
  • Andrews Fellowship, Purdue University, 2010 - 2012
  • American Dietetic Association Outstanding Dietetics Student, 2005


  • Tucker RM and Mattes RD. 2013. Influences of repeated testing and testing methodology on non-esterified fatty acid taste. Chemical Senses. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjt002
  • Tucker RM and Mattes RD. 2012. Are Free Fatty Acids Effective Taste Stimuli in Humans? Presented at the Symposium "The Taste for Fat: New Discoveries on the Role of Fat in Sensory Perception, Metabolism, Sensory Pleasure and Beyond" held at the Institute of Food Technologists 2011 Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA., June 12, 2011. J Food Sci 77(3):S148-151.
  • Running CA, Mattes RD and Tucker RM. In press. Fat taste in humans: Sources of within- and between-subject variability. Prog Lipid Res.
  • Tucker RM and Mattes RD. Under review. The Effect of Short, Daily Oral Exposure on Non-Esterified Fatty Acid Sensitivity.
  • Tucker RM and Mattes RD. In press. Satiation, Satiety: The Puzzle of Solids and Liquids. In: Blundell, J. E. and Bellisle, F., editors. Satiation, Satiety and the Control of Food Intake. Cambridge: Woodhead.
  • Lee J, Tucker RM, Tan S-Y, Running CA, Jones JB and Mattes RD. In press. Nutritional Implications of Taste and Smell. In: Doty, R. L., editor. Handbook of Olfaction and Gustation. 3rd ed. New York: Wiley-Liss.


  • New Insights into Human Fat Taste Detection Threshold Testing. Food Oral Processing: Physics, Physiology, & Psychology of Eating. Beaune, France, 2012.


  • Nutrition Science Graduate Student Organization, Co-chair, 2012-2013
  • Purdue University ZipTrips Scientist: The Science of Nutrition, 2012
  • Purdue University Interdepartmental Nutrition Program Education Committee Student Member, 2011 – 2012
  • Purdue University Department of Nutrition Science Graduate Student-Faculty Liaison, 2010 – 2012
  • Purdue University College of Health and Human Sciences Inaugural Speaker Search Committee, 2010 – 2012
  • Purdue University Department of Nutrition Science Mentor for Undergraduate Dietetics Student, 2010 – 2011

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