Abstract Background Previous research suggests that adequate dietary zinc intake may be important in determining the sensory experience of food, appetite and consequently, dietary quality. The aim of this pilot study was to explore relationships between taste sensitivity and dietary zinc intake in healthy young adults (age 20–40 years: 24 male, mean age ± SD = 27 ± 4.86 years; 26 female, mean age ± SD = 23 ± 2.10). Method A signal detection method was used to assess taste acuity for the four basic tastes: sweet (glucose), sour (citric acid), salt (sodium chloride) and bitter (quinine). A 4-day food diary was used to determine dietary intakes of zinc (mg day−1) and salt. Results Males reported a higher zinc intake than females (P = 0.001). Higher dietary zinc intake was associated with better taste acuity for salt in females (P = 0.017) but not in males. Acuity for bitter taste appeared to be related to zinc intake in males (P = 0.007) but not females. Among those whose average daily zinc intake was below the RNI, males were less sensitive than females to sour (P = 0.02) and bitter (P = 0.014) taste. Conclusion These findings suggest that zinc is more important for taste acuity in males than females and indicate the importance of taking sex differences into account when studying taste acuity.