Supertasters and the Genetics of Taste

Find out if you're someone who tastes more than most.


| September-October 2009



Girl with a blue tongue

To find out if you're a supertaster, first, color your tongue blue.

www.iStockphoto.com/Mark Evans

When you were a child and your mom tried to get you to eat broccoli, you may have been missing out on a great excuse, because how we taste is in our genes.

Dr. Linda Bartoshuk, a taste researcher at Yale School of Medicine, groups people into three types of taster: supertasters (25%), tasters (50%) and nontasters (25%). 

Because supertasters have more taste buds, one way to test if you are a supertaster is to literally count the bumps on your tongue. First, put food coloring on your tongue, Bartoshuk uses blue. Fungiform papillae, which hold your taste buds, don't take the coloring as well as the tissue around them, so they stand out as pink circles against the colored background. Now take something with a hole in it the size of one made by a paper punch for an average three-ring binder and place it on your tongue. Count the number of papillae you can see within the hole. If you count more than 25, you are a supertaster. Nontasters have fewer taste buds that are loosely arranged and larger, while supertasters' papillae are close together and smaller. See how many of your friends you can get to take this test and compare.

Bartoshuk also checks where your taste-genes lie using a chemical called PROP that supertasters find extremely bitter but nontasters can't taste at all. Check out SupertasterTest.com to be sent a bit of PROP-infused paper to know your status for sure.

According to research, supertasters tend to have more food dislikes and perceive bitter tastes in many different foods. They dislike strong, bitter foods like raw broccoli, grapefruit juice, coffee and dark chocolate. Also, they tend to find eating hot peppers more intensely painful and are more likely to ask for sauce and dressings on the side. Tasters have the best of both worlds and are the most positive about food; chefs fall into this category most often. While nontasters (a misnomer, because while they can't detect PROP, they can detect other tastes) are the most likely to prefer food that is intensely sweet.

So, the next time someone gives you trouble for being a "wimp" in the hot foods department, tell them that you're a supertaster and have too many tastebuds to appreciate a good jalepeño.





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