Sweet Science: Could You Be a Supertaster?

Did you know that when it comes to taste, not all tongues are created equal? While about half of us are normal, everyday “tasters,” about 25% percent of people are “supertastes.” Super-human gourmands with extraordinary powers of taste? Well, not exactly. Mostly, supertasters perceive bitter flavors, and sometimes sweet and spicy ones too, more strongly. This means many supertasters can’t stand the taste of kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and other bitter veggies, or strong drinks like coffee or beer; many also find sugary foods to be unpalatably sweet.

(And BTW, the other 25% are “nontasters.” Yes, they can still taste, but bitter foods don’t seem all that bad to them.)

So how can you tell if you’re a supertaster? By sampling a chemical substance known as PROP (6-n-propylthiouracil). Supertasters find it horribly, spit-it-out-right-away awful; tasters notice some bitterness; and nontasters, as you might have guessed, can’t taste it at all.

I ordered a test online (for $5, here), already convinced that I was a supertaster. Self-proclaimed discerning palate? Check. Hatred of green vegetables? Check. But wait–I love asparagus. And stout beer. Could it be I was just normal? Only the test would tell (and yes, that’s me below, looking like a goofball with the test strip on my tongue).

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Here’s how it works: Pop the paper strip, which comes saturated with PROP, on your tongue, leave it there for a few seconds, and decide how bitter you perceive it to be. How’d I do? At first, I tasted nothing, which led me to panic–a taster I could handle, but a non-taster?!? But after a few seconds, I detected a faint bitterness in the back of my mouth, sort of like the aftertaste of something medicinal. On a scale of 1 to 10, I gave it a 3. For a wider sample, I asked my SO and a friend to take the test too (we accidentally received an extra test); their results were the same as mine. Tasters, all of us. So, that’s a bummer. Except it’s not: Now I really have no excuse not to eat kale (um, yay?).

For a much more thorough first-hand account, check out David Leite’s enlightening, amusing essay over on Leite’s Culinaria. And readers, what about you? Are any of you known supertasters or nontasters? What’s it like?

2 thoughts on “Sweet Science: Could You Be a Supertaster?

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