Super what? Supertaster!

by Ann on April 21, 2009

I just thought of the “Supertaster” again after having experimented with stevia in some made-up cookie recipes.  So far, the people that have tried the cookies liked them but I think it leaves a bitter aftertaste.  Stevia is such a wonderful, healthy option to replace sugar in your baking recipes and so I really want to like it!

In college, I attended a lecture about supertasters.  First thing, the presenter handed these tiny strips to everyone attending the lecture.  We were all told to put these strips on our tongue.  I will tell you, this strip was extremely bitter and nasty and I about gagged!  The strange thing was, as I looked around most people had a very mild reaction or no reaction whatsoever!  There were a few bewildered students like me making grotesque faces and wondering what in the world was going on and why weren’t the rest of the attendees begging for water?  I think this was a huge source of amusement for the presenter, who went on to say that if this strip tastes unbearably bitter and nasty, you are a supertaster, if the strip tastes slightly bitter, you are normal, and if the strip doesn’t evoke a reaction, then you are a nontaster.  A supertaster has an unusually high number of taste-buds.  About 25% of the population are supertasters, 50% are medium-tasters, and 25 are nontasters.  Apparently, supertasters are more sensitive to bitter compounds in foods as well as fatty food textures.  The theory goes that this is an evolutionary bonus and negative as well.  Back in the day, sensitivity to bitter flavors helped distinguish poisonous plants thus allowing for better chances of survival.  Also, supertasters (not all) tend to be thinner due to the sensitivities of experiencing more intense reaction to bitter, fatty, and even super-sweet foods.  However, supertasters (again, not all) tend to avoid some bitter perceived foods such as broccoli and grapefruit and then miss out on the health benefits and are more susceptible to illness for that reason.

If you’d like to learn more about the chemical component used originally and now to test for supertasters, here is a great article from the New York Times in 1997:    An excerpt from the article, “While all humans are born with an innate liking for sweets,  supertasters find many sugary foods to be sickeningly sweet. Frosting is yucky. Saccharine has a strong aftertaste. Coffee is too bitter, and alcohol too sharp. Hot peppers and ginger produce an unpleasant burn. Food should be tepid.”  For me, the majority of these statements are true.  However, everyone is different and not all supertasters are the same.  I have a sweet-tooth.  For the most part, the sweets I eat are healthier versions and not overly sweet; I prefer cream cheese frosting and often scrape off the regular stuff.  I cannot stand the fat in meat and so if a meat is fatty, I usually can’t get through more than a bite or two of it.  I add milk to my coffee and for the most part think hard alcohol is nasty unless disguised by something (mmmm, rum cake!).  I do like spicy foods though, so there’s my little quirk I guess.  I can taste the heat, but I think it’s fun!

Supertasters do not have superior taste-buds, just more sensitivities due to more papillae (taste-buds).  If you’re a woman and have ever gotten pregnant, you may have noticed your sensitivities increase.  That is your body trying to protect itself from illness from you and your child.  You probably experienced a supertaster year!  I swear that ever since I got pregnant two years ago, my tastebuds got even more sensitive than before, and it never truly went away.  I preferred being less sensitive personally.  It’s easier!  However perhaps I should be thankful for this because maybe I’m a food nut due to all those extra tastebuds?  Either way, the supertaster phenomenon is pretty interesting to me, and if you’re curious, you can always purchase a test strip on the internet or dye your mouth blue:  http://www.slashfood.com/2006/01/22/are-you-a-supertaster/

Maybe I’ll like stevia when I’m older.

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Lula’s Sweet Apothecary « HungryHeather
November 19, 2010 at 4:22 am

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1 Kam February 14, 2010 at 1:11 am

I know this is an old post but thank you for confirming that I am not weird. No matter how much I see health food proponents promote stevia I just cannot use it. It is always bitter to me, even the ones marked “non bitter”. I do remember have a pretty bad reaction to those tasting strips and a texture and temperature of a food are important to me as the taste itself. (Another thing that tastes bitter to me: red or pink frosting on cakes. I seem to be the only one that can taste this.)

2 Ann February 14, 2010 at 10:29 am

Kam, very true! I’m pregnant right now and stevia is even MORE bitter than usual. I can detect the tiniest amounts where before I would be okay with a little smidgen, even though there’s no way I like anything only sweetened with stevia! The pink frosting…not sure:) I didn’t like frosting as a kid (I know, weird)- or cake, but I like it all now, regardless of color. However, now I am paranoid about what that particular food coloring agent has done to rats in laboratories, so I prefer natural colorings or white!

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