A supertaster experiences more intense taste sensations than the average person.
Do you gag after sipping a mochaccino? Does your kid throw tantrums at the mere thought of eating their greens? True, people have different tastes — try explaining the existence of Crocs any other way. But some people are far more sensitive to taste than others. They’re called supertasters!
One possible answer lies, unsurprisingly, in the tongue.
The taste bud theory behind supertasters
The first two-thirds of your tongue’s upper surface contains tiny, mushroom-shaped red bumps called fungiform papillae (FP), which are structures containing taste buds.
The number of FPs and the number of taste buds on each FP vary by person. And while some scientists believe that supertasters have more FPs than regular tasters, there’s not a whole lot of proof.
Are genetics involved?
Genetics may have a role in making someone a supertaster.
Until very recently, researchers thought supertasters had more FPs than regular tasters and nontasters. But a 2018 study found that this may not be the case.
Our tongues have different types of taste receptors. The study examined the number of FPs in supertasting candidates by gauging how they responded to a bitter chemical called 6-m-propylthiouracil (or PROP to its pals) and comparing that to the number of FPs.
The study authors didn’t find a link between supertasting PROP and the number of FPs a person had, suggesting that genetics or other factors lead to supertasting.
Another study found that supertasters who were sensitive to the taste of fats may be more likely to have more FPs. But an aversion to bitterness wasn’t linked to the number of FPs — the authors, again, put this down to genetics.
While there’s no way to know for sure if you’re a supertaster, these are some indications you might be:
- You can’t tolerate sugar, fatty foods, or bitter foods like broccoli, kale, coffee, beer, and dry wine.
- You mask the taste of certain foods with salt or sugar.
- You can’t stand the taste of smoking. (Good for you!)
Questions to ask yourself
If you suspect you’re a supertaster, try to determine which foods you’re most sensitive to. Taste buds can pick up these five tastes:
Taste buds might also detect fat, but more research is needed to confirm this.
While tasting foods, ask yourself:
- Do I find broccoli, kale, and brussels sprouts too bitter to eat?
- Do I find it tough to tolerate bitterness in tea or coffee?
- Do fatty or sugary foods do horrible things to my taste buds?
- Does the idea of spicy food make me curl up inside?
- Do people tell me I’m a picky eater?
- Is the taste of alcohol too bitter for me?
Supertasting is entirely subjective. There’s no medical test to confirm your suspicions. At the very least, a “self-diagnosis” gives you ammo for the next time someone accuses you of being picky.
Supertest: At-home taste testing
Looking for a fun way to spend a night in? You can test how many taste buds you have! It’s interesting but not entirely helpful, since the number of taste buds you have might not relate to your sensitivity to taste. Some taste buds might be inactive, for example.
But it’s possible to count the number of FPs on the tip of your tongue and compare it with your friends’ FP counts, just for fun.
Try the following test using a paper hole punch and some blue food dye:
- Punch a hole in a piece of paper.
- Place a drop of food dye on the tip of your tongue and allow it to spread out.
- Place the paper with the hole in it over the dyed area on your tongue.
- Count the number of red dots in the diameter of the hole.
If you count more than 35 papillae in the hole, you have more taste buds than average. Congrats?
Being a supertaster isn’t bad — it’s just the way you experience the world. And it can actually have benefits.
- You may be more likely to maintain a moderate weight if you avoid sweet and/or fatty foods.
- You’re less likely to smoke or drink alcohol often (or at all) if you hate the taste. This is easier on both your body and your pockets.
- A distaste for bitter vegetables could mean you don’t consume enough vitamins and minerals through your diet.
- You don’t enjoy the same variety of foods as people who aren’t supertasters.
- Eating fewer vegetables could mean you’re not getting enough fiber. This could lead to digestive problems and increase your risk of colon cancer.
- If you mask the flavors of certain foods with salt, you could have higher sodium levels in your bloodstream. This increases your risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease.
Many children dislike green vegetables and spicy foods. While there are many reasons for this, one possibility is that kids start life with a whole bunch of FPs but have fewer as they age.
Parents, take heart! Once your children reach their teens or early adulthood, their eating habits may change.
How does taste change with age?
Cell reproduction slows as we age — and this includes taste bud cells. This is why many older adults lose their appetite.
Compared with 30-year-olds, people over age 70 have up to 70 percent fewer cells in their bodies.
What does changing taste mean for supertasters?
For once, aging may have some benefits!
As you get older, your taste buds diminish. So you may become less sensitive to the foods you once couldn’t tolerate. Broccoli, ahoy!
Just give these foods another try from time to time and see if they taste any better.
Convincing young supertasters to eat veggies
Here are some inventive ways for superparents to get supertaster children to eat their veggies without them even realizing it (but this takes time and patience):
- Smoothies are a great way to combine vegetables with fruit and yogurt to make a tasty and nutritious meal. Add a dollop of ice cream if you must and a colorful spoon for fun. (Stealth spinach is the best spinach.🕵🏻♂️)
- Grate or chop the offending bitter veggies into a baked potato dish or mac and cheese.
- Choose veggies they actually like! No point starting fights over broccoli when squash or sweet potatoes don’t trigger your little supertaster’s palate as much.
- Seasoning food with salt or sugar might disguise the flavor. But don’t overdo it — if they get too used to eating lots of salt when they’re young, it might be harder to cut down later in life.
- Maybe add grated cheese or a dollop of cottage cheese.
If you’re a fully grown supertaster, you can give these methods a try yourself.
If you’ve always wondered why broccoli and spinach taste awful and why you can’t seem to enjoy a beer on a night out with friends, you could be a supertaster.
Vegetables might become more palatable as you get older. It’s also possible that your supertasting qualities are genetic, in which case there’s no simple solution.
Either way, there’s no reason for concern if your diet is on point. But if you find vegetables difficult to eat, you might be missing out on some important nutrients. Try mixing veggies into flavorful dishes or adding them to tasty smoothies to get those necessary nutrients.
If you think your supertasting might be depriving you of nutritious foods, a dietitian might be able to help you find ways to include healthy foods that don’t trigger disgust.
Make the most of your meals, invent some new dishes that taste good to you, and try to eat healthfully.