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What is a Supertaster?

Supertasters may have an intense dislike of broccoli because of its strong flavor.
The cone-shaped filiform papillae are the most abundant type of papillae on the tongue in all people, although supertasters have more taste buds than ordinary tasters.
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  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2014
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Some people are more sensitive than others to compounds in foods that create certain flavors. These people are called supertasters. The term may suggest that food tastes better to supertasters — that it tastes super, even. But that is not the case. Much of what tastes bland to those possessed of ordinary taste-talents, or can’t be perceived by them at all, has an identifiable taste for supertasters.

Supertasters are born with a heightened sensitivity to flavor. Even a person with a keen awareness of flavors can’t be considered a supertaster unless she comes with the right equipment. That equipment seems to reside in the surface of the tongue, among the fungiform papillae — the structures that support the taste buds. Everyone has these structures, but supertasters have more than most, and they therefore have more taste buds distributed throughout the tongue.

While this physiological difference seems to account for supertasting abilities, there may be other factors at work. The tendency also appears to be related to sex hormones, as most supertasters are women. The genes that determine supertaster status may have been heavily selected in the days when avoiding plants in the wild that were bitter, and therefore poisonous, made for better health and longer life.

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The laboratory test that determines whether someone is a supertaster involves a substance called propylthiouracil (PROP). For ordinary tasters PROP is flavorless, but it has a powerfully bitter flavor for supertasters. A look at the tongue can also help determine whether someone is a supertaster. The surface of a supertaster’s tongue will appear especially bumpy with fungiform papillae. Using blue food coloring to dye the tongue shows the bumps in greater relief.

But a supertaster may not need a test to determine her status. If a person is a supertaster, the taste of some foods will be unpleasant to her. She can gauge her intense dislike of, say, broccoli, against the milder reactions of others to the same food. An accumulation of unusual taste reactions will suggest that she is indeed a supertaster. Other foods mildly bitter to ordinary tongues but extremely so to supertasters are coffee, dark chocolate, and soy. Supertasters also find the flavor of sugary and fatty foods overwhelming.

Bitter vegetables contain alkaloids helpful to cell repair, and supertasters may miss out on the benefits of these. But because supertasters don’t enjoy sugar or fat, they tend to suffer from obesity and cardiovascular disease less often than the rest of the population.

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anon357896
Post 14

I'm a supertaster. I didn't know until my Biology class that I was, but it explained a lot. Not that I have some fancy super power that I just didn't notice. I thought it was natural.

I've never fancied broccoli, dark chocolate, black coffee spinach, even when I became a vegan. So I learned to just chew and swallow as fast as I could as a child and teenager. Raw spinach tastes like how I'd describe the papers. Bitter.

Maybe supertasters would be better cooks than those who aren't supertasters?

The only problem I can see happening is weight gain! Personally when someone can put together the right course or just something yummy like a pear, I can't get enough! At some point I realized I could taste what was wrong with the dish. So, I decided to experiment and design new, better dishes

Sweet foods are the worst. I never enjoyed soda and cotton candy, while my younger siblings couldn't get enough.

anon340485
Post 13

I have around 30 to 35 of papillae per 7mm diameter circle. The Papillae are the tiny structures on your tongue that contain the taste buds. I did the home test with food coloring, just because I wanted to know if I was a supertaster.

I'm a really picky eater. And to me there's a difference in things I like compared to my sister or mom. They can eat a lot of foods I really hate just because of the taste: dark chocolate, zucchini, cucumber, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, bananas, plain coffee, green tea, pickles, milk, butter, ketchup, peas, beans, lettuce, peppers, radish, sweet potato, avocado, melon, watermelon and cantaloupe are foods I won't eat. They can taste bitter, just unpleasant, or nasty to the point that I almost throw if I try them and if I keep trying to have some to the point that I will throw up.

Milk and bananas aren't as bad as the others. Milk just has a odd taste unless it's chocolate milk. And bananas just taste nasty. Watermelon, melon and cantaloupe taste really watery to me with a hint of another flavor. The water flavor is fine but that small hint of flavor I get just disgusts me. I don't even have to taste mushrooms. Once they enter my mouth, I can tell that I don't like it. Once it was in a sauce and I put a bit of the sauce in my mouth and spit it out right away I could feel the texture right away. My sister didn't even know there were mushrooms in the sauce until I told her. Plain or black coffee and green tea I can't drink at all. If I try to drink the green tea plain, I gag. I have to add sugar or honey and milk to the drinks and lots of it. I can eat plain lettuce. It's just nasty, but not as bad as other foods. Some things taste better to me with sauce on it. I think I tasted zucchinis and cucumbers once and I hated them. They're just nasty. Also, I had a cucumber face scrub and I used it once and never used it again because I could taste it through my skin into my mouth and it was awful. I don't like dark chocolate at all. It's way too bitter. I make a weird face when I taste it. I like the sweet chocolate like milk chocolate. But if it's too sweet, it also doesn't taste as good.

Then there's ketchup and tomatoes. Tomatoes have a taste I can't describe, but it's not good. It also has that watery taste with a mix of flavors like watermelon/melon. Ketchup has a really zingy taste similar to ranch dressing but I can tolerate ranch dressing. I use ranch in place of things people would use ketchup for.

Even drinks other then milk, coffee, and green tea, have different tastes to them, like water. Water is water. It shouldn't taste much different. My sister likes bottled water and not tap and I'm the opposite. I like tap, not bottled. My sister says she doesn't like tap water because she can taste the minerals in it. I like tap water. I don't taste the minerals except with bottled water, like from springs. I can taste the minerals in it. I don't know if that's a part of supertasting. I also like spicy things although I can't stand it too spicy, but I can stand more than some people. Oh, I didn't talk about butter. I'm fine with a little butter, but not too much. On most things I don't even add butter, like to toast. I'd rather eat plain toast than buttered.

Things I do like more are sweet and sour stuff, like milk chocolate, lemons and candy stuff. One thing I can't stand is sour cream. It has a nasty taste to it that I just hate. If it's on anything that I eat, I won't finish what I'm eating. I won't even try to get it off what I'm eating or was eating and just leave it alone and not touch it. I love meat, but if it's too fatty or too greasy, I don't like it.

I think depending on the supertaster, that they have different tastes with different things, but I'm pretty sure that with more bitter stuff. most of us supertasters don't like it.

anon334463
Post 12

No actual supertasters have posted here? Wow. Let me enlighten you all then.

I am a female in my 20's. My BMI is 18.

My sense of smell seems to be worse than most people's. I hear there is supposed to be a correlation between taste and smell. Which is good, because people around me will complain of a stink, and I'm blissfully unaware.

I used to like a wide variety of foods when I was a young child. I got pickier as I got older. Leafy lettuce used to be practically the last vegetable I could eat raw, but as of three years ago, they're too bitter to eat.

I don't mind eating most vegetables as long as they're cooked until all bitterness is gone (however, this is impossible for bell peppers). If they are not cooked, the bitterness burns my tongue, much like spicy mouthwash.

If I eat food with too much fat, it feels like an oil slick is forming on my tongue. Like those kinds you see in parking lot puddles after rain. Eating fats/grease gives me no pleasure, and the only reason it's not completely banned is because it has lubricating properties, and makes some foods easier to swallow (like gravy on turkey).

My most hated single food is probably sausages (too spicy and greasy). I also passionately dislike most cheeses, oily condiments (mayo, butter, salad dressing), nuts (they tend to have an oily flavor, especially walnuts) and greasy brownies.

I don't mind meat in general, but I will not eat any fatty bits. I will eat fried nuggets, as they have a "dry" texture, but regular fried chicken is too slimy inside. I will eat hamburgers (not cheeseburgers) if they have been fried to dryness. I rarely eat fast food (maybe two or three times a year).

Other random things I dislike: raisins, mushrooms, Butterfingers, most flavors of fruit juice, coffee, jalapenos (though I do like red pepper).

Random foods I do like: salt and vinegar potato chips (for me, this is "extreme" food), dark chocolate (if it's by my particular favorite brand), dill-flavored pickled herring, spaghetti (but only if it's my recipe).

Really, the only advantage to the condition is that you find great pleasure in foods that others find too lowly to eat without seasoning, like plain mashed potatoes, or plain white bread (whole wheat tends to taste too nutty/oily). I like my flavors to be "pure," and usually don't like my foods to be mixed before I eat them.

Eating at restaurants is a pain, because you don't want to waste your money on food you won't like anyway. So you end up picking something safe like a sandwich, and then pull all the cheese and veggies off until it's nude.

It's even more of a pain to eat at someone else's home. Even if you like the particular dish they make, you might not like their particular recipe, which they've ruined by putting in mushrooms, bell pepper, or over spiced. And it's not like you can refuse what they made.

You can't really be a taste-tester, because your sense of flavor is different from most people's, and the range of flavors you will allow on your tongue is very limited.

nony
Post 11

@miriam98 - So a supertaster dislikes broccoli. If that is the case, the world is full of supertasters that are about five years old.

In all seriousness, however, supertasters will simply have to find other ways to get their vitamins and minerals. They can take their vegetables in drink form or take supplements.

What I am curious about is the genetic condition that brought about the “supertasting” condition to begin with. What makes some tongues coated with these fungiform papillae, as the article talks about, and not others? Taste physiology is a strange science all to itself, from what I can tell.

miriam98
Post 10

I guess supertasters suffer from a kind of sensory overload in their tongue. Having a taste receptor magnify even the blandest of foods could not be a good thing, in any capacity, I would think. I can’t think of any real practical applications for people with this condition.

I know there are professional taste testers in the fast food industry, for example, who render their opinions on how a particular burger tastes. But these people are able to taste fatty and salty foods. If, as a supertaster, your tongue magnifies bland foods, what good are you?

At least the condition doesn’t have any negative side effects, so I guess you can just go on with your life. If it really bothers you, however, I am sure that there are drugs out there you can take which can mitigate the sensitivity of your tongue to food.

Azuza
Post 9

I wish I could have the experience of a supertaster just temporarily. I think it might be cool to taste foods that are normally tasteless. But I think vegetables tasting bitter would probably get pretty old after awhile.

Also, I love both coffee and chocolate, and I would be sad if they didn't taste good to me anymore!

SZapper
Post 8

@indemnifyme - Being a supertaster sounds pretty awful. I suppose getting a job in the food industry (maybe as a food critic?) would be one way of making lemonade out of lemons!

I'm personally glad to just have regular, run of the mill taste buds! I don't need any superpowers, especially ones that might interfere with the enjoyment of my food.

This article reminds me of a book I read awhile ago called The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. The main character wasn't a supertaster. Instead, she was able to taste the feelings of the person who made the food that she was eating. It was definitely more a curse than a blessing for the girl in the story!

indemnifyme
Post 7

@orangey03 - I remember learning awhile ago that taste buds get less and less and less sensitive as people get older. That's why a lot of people start liking spicy food more when they are older. And a lot of people (myself included) like vegetables as an adult that they didn't like when they were children!

I assume this would be the same for supertasters. They may never get to the "normal" levels of taste sensitivity, but I imagine they become less and less sensitive as they get older.

This would probably be great for most supertasters. However, it might not be so great for a supertaster with a job like wine tasting that relies on their heightened sense of taste.

cloudel
Post 6

I recently heard about an interesting study involving supertasters. The findings show that they actually prefer more salt on their food than people with normal taste buds.

The researchers had the subjects try a brand name product, followed by a generic product of the same type with a much lower sodium content. Each time, the supertasters preferred the saltiest item.

The researchers think that this is because of their sensivity to bitter tastes. The supertasters need a lot of salt to counteract the high degree of bitterness that their tongues can detect.

With so much salt in their diet, they might be at a greater risk of heart problems than was originally thought. A diet full of sodium is rough on the circulatory system.

kylee07drg
Post 5

I can't imagine a life without sugar and fat! Poor supertasters! They will never know the joy most of us feel when we eat a cream-filled doughnut or a chocolate brownie smothered in ice cream and filled with caramel.

They don't enjoy fried chicken, french fries, or hamburgers. They might not even like steak, since most of it has plenty of interlaced fat.

While I feel sorry for them regarding what they are missing out on, I know that they are probably better off, healthwise. You probably don't see too many supertasters with high blood pressure or suffering from heart attacks!

seag47
Post 4

@orangey03 – It sounds like you might be a borderline supertaster, if there is such a thing! I have a friend who is an actual supertaster, and like you, she loves her pasta with butter only.

Sadly, she has a tough time getting enough nutrients. She hates basically all vegetables. While I can understand her dislike of broccoli and spinach, I can't relate to her hatred for all beans, tomatoes, and carrots.

Since zucchini and squash are bland when compared to most vegetables, she will eat them steamed with no added seasoning. I'm sure that this is what protects her from malnutrition.

orangey03
Post 3

@Ivan83 – I would think that supertasters would be at a disadvantage in almost every area. Although I am not a supertaster, I am more discerning of flavors than my friends, and it has not served me well. I can just imagine how awful it must be to really dislike so many things that are good for you.

When I was growing up, I was even more sensitive to tastes than I am now. I loved the taste of bland macaroni with only margarine mixed in, and I hated the flavor of coffee and dark chocolate.

Thankfully, I now like both dark chocolate and coffee, but I still love my bland macaroni. My friends say it has no flavor, but I beg to differ.

gravois
Post 2

Do supertasters ever get hired by restaurants or food producers to judge the quality of their food? This seems like it would be a unique and possibly helpful way to get an opinion of their cooking.

Ivan83
Post 1

Are there any supertasters out there? I have always been really curious about this unique condition.

My question is, is this a blessing or a curse? I can see it going both ways. On the one hand maybe you would eat a really good orange and the flavor would be like something from heaven.

But on the other hand maybe you have a mediocre plate of pasta and all you can taste is the way the flavor combinations are off and the tomatoes are of a poor quality. You would get more of the good and more of the bad at the same time.

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