To Eat or Not to Eat

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:)!


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Source: Beckam, Mary. “A Matter of Taste.” Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian, Aug. 2004. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

7 thoughts on “To Eat or Not to Eat

  1. tmv5147

    Really interesting topic. I was wondering the whole time throughout reading was who is exposed to this trait and how do they get exposed. I found this article on Men’s Health that talks about how being a picky eater is due to genetics and your environment. It does not talk about “supertasters” but it just discusses the process of how one can inherit becoming a picky eater. The other thing that I was wondering about is if being a picky eater has anything to do with race, it would be interesting if there was a global survey where people from other countries were asked if they enjoyed other countries foods.

  2. Mackenzie French

    Great topic for a blog post! I have always wondered why so many of my friends are such picky eaters. I have always wondered what contributed to it or if they were just born that way. I have never heard of ‘super tasters” but now I will be using that a lot. I found this article you might want to check out, I thought it was interesting since it talked about other species and the biology of picky eating!

  3. Molly Mccarthy Tompson

    I am not picky in the least, and it is interesting to know the science of why. I’ve heard before that autism is associated with extremely picky eating. I found this article that explores how autism is related to picky eating and food selectivity. The study was unsuccessful in finding a causation between how bad the autism is and how picky a child with autism is, which seems interesting.

  4. Reetu Shah

    I really like how you set up this blog post. It was well explained and easy to understand. Like these comments state, I also never knew that superstars were a concept. I personally cant handle spicy or bitter food so that is starting to make more sense now. So for the experiment that you talked about; do you think there could be any confounding variables? Also don’t forget, chance is always a possibility!
    This topic is interesting and I found this article that explains how the tongue tastes food. It also talks about each part of the tongue and how it does its job. The tongue actually has a lot of different features that we probably never even thought about!

    You can check that article right here:

  5. Marielle Concetta Ravally

    I really found your blog to be very interesting. Before reading your blog I had no idea that “supertasters” even existed. I’m always curious about people with heightened senses because as you pointed out there are benefits and downsides to the trait. Though it might seem interesting to someone classified as “average”, often there are negatives to it. Take someone with a heightened sense of hearing for example. Though it might be cool to be able to hear every sound in a forest, it probably would be very frustrating when trying to study in the library. I found this article regarding some people’s experience with heightened senses to be very interesting .

    Thank you for sharing!

  6. Samantha Liebensohn

    Anna, really interesting blog post! I found it very easy to follow along and understand what you were saying due to your excellent organization. This blog really sparked my interest because I have no sense of smell, therefore can’t really taste. I wonder if my inability to taste is due to my inability to smell or if it has to do with what you studied. I find I always taste things differently than others so I decided to look a little more into it! Here is an article discussing why people taste things differently:

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