Most of us are born with around 10,000 taste buds on our tongues; many more and you’re a supertaster.
Supertasters perceive far more subtle and nuanced flavors than the rest of us. It’s a genetic trait, like being endowed with perfect pitch or 20/20 vision. It’s found in about 15% of the population, and the ranks include countless wine connoisseurs (wine writer Robert Parker famously insured his own supertasting taste buds for a million dollars) and a disproportionate number of chefs. But it’s a mixed blessing. Assertive flavors present more vividly— salt is saltier and sugar is sweeter. A bitter beer can be off-putting. Hot peppers can be punishing. Hardly a garden of gustatory delights
Supertasters tend to prefer orange juice to grapefruit, green beans to broccoli, spinach to kale. They have a penchant for creamy, fatty foods but as a group are thinner than the general population. Supertasting is found in more women than men, and more Asians and African-Americans than Caucasians. Supertasters are likely to be known as picky eaters as children, but many of them will grow up to be good cooks, mastering techniques that will mute unpalatable tastes.
It’s all in the tongue.
There are two genetically determined traits that distinguish supertasters’ tongues. One is the greater number of taste buds densely packed into each square inch of the tongue’s surface. This gives greater sensory capacity, leading to more precise sensing of flavors. The second trait is the perception of a particular chemical compound (6-n-propylthiouracil known as PROP). Vegetables like brussels sprouts and kale are loaded with it, and most people get a slightly bitter taste from the dark greens. About a quarter of the population sense none of the bitterness, and supertasters are overwhelmed by it.
Does this sound like you? There are a few tests to determine if you possess either of the attributes of a supertaster.
Bland, vile, or somewhere in between? Test your sensitivity to the bitterness compound. The Supertaster Test Kit contains two sets of PROP-infused strips and a detailed test guide.
For an easy home test, swab a little food coloring on your tongue and check the number and concentration of taste buds.
Take this quick and easy quiz about food preferences to see if you could be a supertaster.