When I first heard of the term supertasters, it did come as a surprise that it was something real and not people who had super powers of taste. As interesting as that would be to have a super human power involving flavors and food, unfortunately supertasters have more of an inconvenience with enjoying certain foods compared to other people.
I remember going to the museum of natural history in the city a few years ago and they had a really interesting special exhibit about food, nature and culture. There was a fun experiment with a paper to test your saliva to see if you have hypersensitivity or heightened sense of taste (because they put a certain chemical called PTC that reacts to saliva). When I tested myself, the paper tasted bitter showing that I was sensitive to strong flavors compared to other people.
All of this is based on genes, and since my mom had the same reaction it was clear that your genetics have a dominance over your ability to taste things a certain way. I do find myself tasting certain foods and having them be more bitter to me and others saying its not very bitter at all. Things that are too sweet and sour also are heightened sometimes for me. There is a bit of a spectrum when it comes to calling people tasters and non-tasters. Non-tasters are the ones who wouldn’t taste anything on the PTC paper test, but those who taste a slight bitterness are tasters or medium tasters. If you happen to taste it and it is unbearably bitter then you might be a supertaster.
However, what other biological characteristics make someone a supertaster? Well the main thing that makes a supertaster different is the number of papillae they have on their tongues. Our papillae have many taste receptor cells which then will bind to different flavors that our tongue perceives.
“Regular” non-tasters will generally have between 15 and 25 papillae in an area of 6 millimeters (which is the size of a hole punch). Meanwhile, supertasters can have 35 to 60 papillae for the same size area on the tongue. This makes them have a higher level of taste buds in the various tastes like sour, bitter, sweet and even spicy. Only about 25% of people will be supertasters, with the other 25% as non-tasters and then 50% as the medium tasters.
You might even be thinking to yourself now if you have some taster abilities if you don’t enjoy things like black coffee, broccoli or even certain alcohols. It might even make you rethink if you have kids that are picky eaters that they may be supertasters and not even know it. However there are ways to make strong flavors more mild in taste, such as adding milks to coffee, or pairing acidic flavors to bitter vegetables. Every type of taster can be different and have certain preferences for foods even if they have a strong taste, so tricking the mind and taste buds can be easier for some than others.
Tips For Eating as a Supertaster:
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with new food combinations, since as we get older and in certain environments, we may begin to enjoy foods we never did previously (like garlic or certain fruits).
- Take small amounts of a new food or ingredient that you normally can’t stand and maybe even mask the strong flavors. Bitter broccoli can mask well with a sweet tomato or herb sauces like pesto with pasta.
- If you don’t enjoy really sweet desserts then try to mix and match with some desserts that have more natural sweetness from fruit that may also be tart or savory.
- Growing your own foods in a garden that you know you would enjoy and preparing your own recipes that you can modify to your liking can help you enjoy working in a kitchen instead of dreading to cook or eat something.
- Go on an adventure in the grocery store for produce that you know isn’t bitter and wouldn’t be offensive to your taste buds. You can also try pairing bitter flavors with foods that have savory or sour notes that will trick your taste receptors and balance out flavors (garlic with broccoli and lemon, or ginger and thai basil in a stir fry).
- If you really do like coffee and don’t want a substitute (but can’t stand the bitterness) try a cold brew as some of the bitterness and acidity is taken away from that process. You can also try experimenting with different blends and beans that are not dark roasted or have a very light taste from the average coffee.
- Going out to ethnic restaurants or any restaurant is probably a lot more limited for a supertaster, but if you find out about the menus beforehand and learn more about certain dishes and what is in them, you can find yourself with a few options at each place that won’t ruin your experience.