Are you a supertaster?

Hating broccoli

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting video that discusses the challenges facing  “supertasters.”  A supertaster not only tastes things more intensely, they have stronger feelings about what foods they like and they don’t like. And there are good reasons to determine if you are one – in fact, many supertasters may be at risk for certain illnesses like colon cancer, since they tend to avoid many dark green vegetables, which are often bitter. Plus they often strongly prefer salty foods. However, It’s not all bad – supertasters can fend off certain harmful bacteria better than others. 

So how do you know if you’re a supertaster? In the accompanying article (which requires a subscription to read), they tell you that supertasters are more often women than men, and more often found in Asians and African-Americans than Caucasians. About 15% of the people in the U.S. are supertasters.

There are some more scientific approaches to determine if you’re a supertaster: “Some experts say one way to tell if a person is a supertaster is to count the number of papillae in a small area after dying the tongue with food coloring, a test that can be done at home. Another common test, which can be purchased online, is to give people a particularly bitter chemical such as PROP or PTC, which are similar to a compound found in many dark-green vegetables. Most people find PROP and PTC bitter, but not unbearable, while others don’t taste it at all. For supertasters, the experience is often nauseating.”

And although it’s genetic, there are ways to compensate to help you eat more vegetables and other foods perceived as intensely bitter. “Scientists say research to identify more taste receptors and their associated genes could help dietitians tailor advice to different palates. ‘I think we’re close to the point where, instead of a dietitian saying, ‘Eat less fat, eat more fruits and vegetables,’ they could figure out what foods you do or don’t like with a survey or genetic test,” says John Hayes, a professor of food science at Penn State and lead author of a 2010 study showing supertasters’ preference for salt. “They could say, ‘You know, I want you to eat more fruits and vegetables but you’re going to find it hard to eat kale or Brussels sprouts. Maybe you should try sweet potatoes and squash instead.’ “

And what we found particularly interesting is that “A relatively high proportion of professional chefs are supertasters.” That may explain why some great restaurants leave you cold.

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  • colin.purrington  on  March 19, 2013

    Supertasting chefs are also more likely to oversalt their food, and to train their entire cookroom to oversalt. It's a really big problem, since they will _insist_ it's not oversalted. For them, it's not oversalted, so it's understandable.

  • domesticGeek  on  March 27, 2013

    I'm pretty sure I'm a supertaster — always had a hard time with many bitter or cruciferous veggies, and did a papillae count and qualified based on the numbers given in a magazine article.
    While I've given up on Brussel sprouts, I've found I can actually enjoy collards (and many other greens) if they're cooked in the traditional Southern (US) way: braised with vinegar and bits of bacon, and I fall into the camp that is slightly obsessed with kale chips. (No bitterness! who knew? Plus crazy simple to make.) I do love salty things, but cut back long ago to the extent that most processed food is way too salty for me.

    My mom always thought I was just being difficult, gagging when I had to eat certain veggies as a child. Not until one of my nieces had similar reactions did she begin to 'believe' me. (Fortunately, my mother stopped being the arbiter of what I ate many years before then!)

    I've also read that supertasters are more sensitive to the heat of capsaicin. That's true enough for me, but I wonder if there's enough evidence about that yet.

    I hope that supertaster chefs have the common sense to pay attention if their customers are saying that the food is too salty. (Some chefs will be in the position to ignore it and remain successful, but most surely won't.)

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