Supertasters

It might not be your fault that you hate broccoli. Until recently I probably would have thought that someone who disliked broccoli just hadn’t tried hard enough, but now I know science behind it.

Ever heard of a “supertaster?” Yeah, neither had I until I happened to catch part of a show on PBS. For the life of me I can’t remember what the name of the show was, but it starred a British guy trying extreme foods and sniffing the world’s worst smells. He went on to say that a significant percentage of us are “supertasters” or people with a heightened sense of taste.

It makes sense to me (pun unintended) that there would be a wide range of individual variability for the sense of taste. When I think about the five senses, some of us have better visual, auditory, tactile, or olfactory skills. I just never thought of taste as something that would vary so greatly between people.

The facts about supertasters:

The downside of being a supertaster is that they are programmed to avoid bitter foods, which include many green veggies. Supertasters are at higher risk of developing colon cancer, but tend to be less vulnerable to cardiac issues and obesity.

There are tests out there that claim to determine whether or not you are a supertaster. I took this highly unreliable online quiz to find out if I am a supertaster and it said I was. The questions didn’t ask me about foods, but instead where I like to eat. Strange. But like supertasters, I don’t like coffee, grapefruit, carbonation, chili peppers, and alcohol. But in contrast to the taste preferences of the average supertaster, I do like brussel sprouts, broccoli, and spinach. But I can’t eat arugula or kale raw as they strike me as insanely bitter. Kale chips with salt are divine though… Hmm…

Maybe now I get why some kids avoid veggies. But if I am a supertaster and I still eat broccoli, I guess there is hope that supertasters can overcome inherent biases. I love bland foods and I can’t stand spice. No wonder I started liking school lunch pizza — it probably had the salt I crave!

 

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17 Responses to Supertasters

  1. mlylorenz August 2, 2011 at 3:46 am #

    I took the quiz out of curiosity, it said I rated as two taster types, super and non. Well then…that sounds pretty bogus to me. I do think supertasters exist though, my roommate seems to be insanely sensitive to the taste of alcohol, she hates the taste and says its overpowering in beverages that I cannot taste the alcohol in.

  2. Carrie August 2, 2011 at 3:48 am #

    i also heard something about not liking broccoli as being genetic. i took the quiz and rated as a super taster. i’m the only one in my family that likes coffee and i don’t like any of the rest of the things on the shortlist.

  3. Vanessa August 2, 2011 at 5:15 am #

    Hm, I rated as both super and normal. I would have guessed I’m a non-taster because I love spicy food – I put hot sauce or crushed peppers on almost everything, and if I don’t it seems bland.

  4. Stacy August 2, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Strange- my quiz said I am the thin line between a normal taster and a supertaster. I love coffee, spice, any veggie, GARLIC, and must admit, love having a glass of wine with the girls. I would not have guessed that im a border line supertaster, however, “A supertaster is a person who experiences the sense of taste with far greater intensity than average. Women are more likely to be supertasters”… Maybe I am thinking “supertaster” and I automatically go to picky which is not the case. A local gelato place makes a ancho chili chocolate and its AMAZING! tied for the basil pineapple which is also bursting in flavor. Does the “supertaster” in my allow me to enjoy the robust flawor?

  5. Anonymous August 2, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    I think that PBS show might have been NOVA.  I saw something very similar on PBS awhile back.  This is a link to a 2009 NOVA article on the topic:  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/reed-taste.html   I think the “supertaster” phenomenon is much more complicated than just tastebud density.  The article I linked mentions a very important point which is that most of what we “taste” comes from our sense of smell.  I think food culture, family traditions, personal food experiences, and social influences (i.e. peer pressure experienced by school kids) are important factors, too.  It’s a fascinating topic and highly relevant to school lunch reform because of the challenges schools are facing these days when they try to successfully introduce new, healthier foods to school kids.

  6. Amanda E. August 2, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    I’d completely believe it. I’m definitely not a supertaster, but I do have the ears of a bat, probably to compensate for being as blind as one…

    I also think people can train themselves to like certain tastes. I used to hate all sorts of vegetables because my parents didn’t like them and therefore never offered them. When I set out to improve my diet and that of my family a few years back, I had to force myself to choke down carrots, celery, broccoli, and others. I love them now.

  7. Anne August 2, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

    I think I’m less of a supertaster and more generally extra sensitive to sensory input. For me, the texture or the smell can be as off putting as the taste. But I can tolerate much more spicy heat in my food than my spouse or my family because (I think), while I was a picky eater when I was young, I was also exposed to Indian food frequently (my best friends were Indian) and politeness dictated that I taste everything even when I was sure I wouldn’t like it. I loved the spiciness and the different things like lentils and chickpeas that I didn’t eat at home.

  8. FeedingMyTribe August 2, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

    I took the quiz and it came up supertaster.  But, with only 5 questions, I am not sure it can be that accuarate.  I don’t like Brussels sprouts or bitter greens such as arugala, but I do like spinach and broccoli.  So, not sure what this means.  I think there are almost always ways that an intensely flavored food can be prepared that make it palatable to supertasters. 

  9. DC August 2, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    I am pretty sure that supertasting is genetic.  I think the only way you can know for sure if you are a supertaster is by testing particular chemicals that only supertasters can sense.  One is called propylthiouracil (PROP).  People usually have a) no reaction to it b) a slightly bitter taste or c) an overwhelmingly bitter taste from it.  The ones that have a strong reaction to it are usually supertasters.

  10. amy August 3, 2011 at 2:42 am #

    interesting.  i think hubby is super taster but he is also sensitive to too much salt.  can’t STAND too much salt…

  11. MemeGRL August 3, 2011 at 3:51 am #

    I first heard about supertasters through They Might Be Giants (great kids’ albums)–I avoid all the short list except carbonation, and had to figure out that I only like Brussels sprouts roasted, etc. It can be overcome but I do think it’s important to remember. For instance, I bought a different brand of organic milk and my son spat out his cereal, saying, “This milk is terrible! What went wrong?” He could taste the difference in the milk on his cereal…no wonder he’s SO suspicious of new flavors!

  12. Guest August 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm #

    In regards to kids – they also have more taste buds then adults, and more on their cheeks/palate as well.  From a survival sense, taste gives you information on whether or not a food is toxic, so kids need more help in this area since they’re smaller…..and the future =)

  13. Stacey Stover August 5, 2011 at 5:14 am #

    I’ve wondered for a while if I’m a supertaster – I really, really don’t like sour or bitter foods, including coffee and grapefruit. I do seem to have a much stronger reaction to tastes than friends and family do. However I also have some hypoglycemia issues too, so I don’t like the taste of sweet foods anymore either. Bland is the way to go for me, and I LOVE salt.

  14. Anonymous November 22, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    When it comes to being a supertaster, I’m a one percenter about it. Broccoli is completely inedible. So are green peppers – and if cooled juices leach out and “contaminate” the rest of the food, like green peppers on a pizza. You cannot pick the green peppers off and expect the pizza to be made edible. Conventional tasters (or those with underperforming taste buds) cannot understand this.

    Being a hypertaster is like trying to explain to someone about a fourth primary color when you can see UV as a fourth color. In that case you’d really hate going to a tanning spa. The UV bulbs would be too bright!

  15. Amber November 1, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    I do not think that it can be determined by those simple questions, meaning there are too few. It did say I was between a super-taster and a medium tester. I know myself to be a super-taster, as I do not like many vegetables, coffee (ick, without so much creamer it is no longer coffee), tea, wine, alcohol, black pepper burns my tongue, most condiments and sauces take over whatever it is put on, textures of mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, and a few others are just wrong and I can’t bring myself to eat them, some foods such as bell pepper and onion take over the whole dish and hating the taste makes it impossible for me to even eat. Even with all that, my brother has it worse than I do.

  16. Danyelle January 6, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    That test is not right. If you really want to know if you are a supertaster, you need to count your taste buds. Here is a good way to do so:
    http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/06/how-to-tell-if-you-are-a-supertaster/

  17. Johnny August 6, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

    I think it’s important to note that being a supertaster doesn’t put everyone in the same category of likes and dislikes. I do hate coffee, alcohol (tequila is fine because I enjoy sour flavors), and cantaloupe. I swore for years that I had to be able to taste something that my friends and family couldn’t, because there’s just no way people could enjoy those horrid flavors.

    And my coworker just handed me a double-shot iced black coffee because she’s so kind and got one for everyone in the department. I hate life right now.

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