Supertasters are people that have a superior sense of taste and experience all foods as vibrant flavours. Supertasters experience extreme taste and are sensitive to bitter, sour, sweet, salty and umami (savoury) foods. Non-tasters tend to experience foods as dulled down and not as intense. Approximately 25% of the population are supertasters, comprising 35% women and 15% men. Supertasters are most common in people with Asian, African and South American descent.
So why are some people supertasters? Well genetics cause an increased number of little bumps on our tongues that house taste buds, called fungiform papillae. Non-tasters have about 50 taste buds per square cm, where as supertasters have up to 1000!
Now even though supertasters are more sensitive to salt and chilli… they also tend to eat it more! For instance, supertasters are more likely to come from Asian, African and South American descent – and the foods in these cultures tend to have a lot of hot chilli! Another example is salt – although supertasters are more sensitive to it, they can sometimes prefer salty foods as it can act as a way to mask the bitterness of foods such as cheeses and vegetables.
Supertasters vs. non-supertasters… who will win the fight?
There doesn’t seem to be a clear winner between the two! But there are some advantages that come with both tasters.
- Non-tasters – 25% population
- Medium tasters – 50% population
- Supertasters – 25% population
Supertasters are very sensitive to bitter foods, and this is thought to provide an evolutionary advantage as some poisonous plants and berries are very bitter – which supertasters would avoid. Supertasters also avoid fatty and sugary foods and are therefore thinner and have a decreased risk of heart disease. For example, supertasting women in their 40’s are 20% thinner as they are less likely to crave junk food. However supertasters generally avoid foods containing flavonoids, which gives the bitter taste in broccoli and grapefruit. This can be a disadvantage as these foods can decrease the risk of cancer.
Do you think you’re a supertaster?
Take the supertaster test!
Since supertasting is genetic, super-tasters have a certain gene which allows them to taste a chemical called 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP). To take the supertaster test, you have to have access to the chemical PROP. When tasting PROP:
- Non-tasters experience no taste
- Medium tasters experience slight bitterness that is bearable
- Supertasters experience extreme bitterness!!!
PROP can be hard to come by, so an easy ‘do it yourself‘ test is to simply count the number of papillae on your tongue! All you need is some food dye (preferably blue) and paper with a standard size hole-punch. Drop some food dye on your tongue, allow the dye to settle for a few seconds with some saliva, and place the hole-punched paper over your tongue. Count the number of papillae in this hole (which are usually white or pink in contrast to the blue tongue), and presto, your experiment is complete!
- <15 papillae – non taster
- 15-35 papillae – medium taster
- >35 papillae – supertaster
How did you do?