As the days grow closer to Thanksgiving, the arguments in my family grow larger about what sides we should cook for dinner. There are the obvious favorites such as stuffing, mashed potatoes, and the green beans, but every year we always like to throw in a new and original dish to try something new. My parents and my sister are not picky eaters in the slightest. I am not either, but I am definitely pickier than them. I am curious as to why some people like some foods, whereas others do not.
An article from the Smithsonian explains that it is the number of bumps, also known as fungiform papillae, that determine how sensitive your taste buds really are. There is a test that you can use on yourself in order to count them: cover your tongue with blue food coloring. The blue food coloring makes it easier to see these scattered bumps. Now, if there are more than 30 of the fungiform papillae in a circle about a quarter inch wide, you have very delicate and specific taste requirements. This condition is also known as being a “supertaster”. Though it might sound awesome to be referred to as “super”, this superpower might not be as great as it sounds. Unfortunately, it means you have less of a selection of food you will eat. Both bitter and spicy tasting foods will not be acceptable for your palate.
It was in the early 1990s when a student at Yale University, Linda Bartoshuk, was studying the artificial sweetener saccharin that supertasters were uncovered. While many people labeled the saccharin as sweet, there was a small handful that claimed it had a bitter aftertaste. Bartoshuk became curious as to why these people had such acute taste buds, and so she decided to put together a large randomized control trial to test the subject further. The independent variable were various food chemicals, and the dependent variable was the individual’s sensitivity to the chemical. With this sample information she concluded that about 25% of Americans are supertasters.
She then chose to pay attention to the various physical layouts of tongues that individuals have. The people that were categorized as supertasters had tongues with many of the fungiform papillae scattered across all areas. In addition to needing a high frequency of fungiform papillae on your tongue, you also need to be able to taste PROP in order to be classified as a supertaster. PROP is a bitter tasting compound, however only people with high sensitivity will actually be able to recognize the bitterness.
So like I said before, by having the abilities of a supertaster, yes you will not be able to eat as much as me, but it turns out you might have some health perks. As other scientists completed meta analyses on Bartoshuk’s work, they came to notice that supertasters tend to avoid rich flavors in their food selection. Most of these rich flavors that are not included in their diet are primarily foods with fats and sugars. With this observation they also realized that supertasters are usually skinnier than people with a more open food selection. Since high intakes of fats and sugars are most commonly known for positively correlating with a high cholesterol, they are known to be much healthier on that spectrum. In contrast, many vegetables are too bitter for their taste buds to handle, so they miss out on many nutrients from that food group.
Overall, there are pros and cons to being both a non-taster (food selection is unlimited) and a supertaster. Unfortunately, unlike becoming a vegan or a vegetarian, this trait is genetic, so you are stuck with the condition you are born with whether you like it or not. Regardless of your food choices, I hope you have a delicious Thanksgiving:)!
Source: Beckam, Mary. “A Matter of Taste.” Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian, Aug. 2004. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.