The role of sulfate and nitrate in the taste of drinking water is not entirely clear. Taste threshold concentrations (TTCs) were estimated for these two species by the 3-AFC method by a trained panel, as sodium and calcium salts. In both cases TTCs for nitrate were about 100 mg NO3/L, twice the usual reference value of international recommendations. TTCs for sulfate were about 160 mg SO4/L (sodium salt) and 80 mg SO4/L (calcium); 75% detection values were also estimated for both anions. An experiment with a series of duo-trio tests plus preference showed that sulfate at low concentrations tended to improve the taste of water. However, at high concentrations it was perceived negatively: salty and bitter were the main descriptors used. The reversion concentration took place between 176 and 259 mg SO4/L. These results indicate that nitrate has to be considered an important issue for health, but with no relevant role in the taste of water. Sulfate shows a positive influence at moderate concentrations but becomes negative at high levels. The usual aesthetic-based level of 250 mg/L established by international regulations appears to be reasonable. The findings of this study with trained panellists are preliminary. Future research with consumer panels is recommended.

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