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I first heard about Supertasters last year when I saw the special on Ferran Adria (and his restaurant El Bulli), hosted by Anthony Bourdain. What’s funny is at the time, I didn’t know there was a term “supertaster,” even though I understood what it meant. In the show, Bourdain, Adria, and a female translator all put a white powdery substance on their tongues. Both men shrugged saying it tasted like nothing while the translator started gagging, rushing to the fridge for a bottle of water. She said it was intensely bitter.

Through my current obsession with molecular gastronomy, I came across the term and have been quite interested every since. Wikipedia describes it as follows:

A supertaster is a person who experiences taste with far greater intensity than average. Women are more likely to be supertasters, as are Asians and Africans. Among individuals of European descent, it is estimated that about 25% of the population are supertasters. The cause of this heightened response is currently unknown, although it is thought to be, at least in part, due to an increased number of fungiform papillae. The evolutionary advantage to supertasting is unclear. In some environments, heightened taste response, particularly to bitterness, would represent an important advantage in avoiding potentially toxic plant alkaloids. However, in other environments, increased response to bitter may have limited the range of palatable foods. In our modern, energy-rich environment, supertasting may be cardioprotective, due to decreased liking and intake of fat, but may increase cancer risk via decreased vegetable intake. It may be a cause of picky eating, but picky eaters are not necessarily supertasters, and vice versa.

Having subscribed to a few food blogs, I came across the Super Taster Test. I emailed the the founder, Douglas, to inquire about the tests. He offered to send me some tests if I promised to share the results. I agreed right away! I should note that in the meantime, I tried to get my roommate (a chemistry PhD student) to make the strips for me, but he ignored my email. No matter, the strips arrived by the weekend and I was ready to do some testing.

I consider myself a foodie so I thought surely I must be one. However, the more you read, the more you realize that may not neccessarily be true. Just bcause I liked food and liked eating doesn’t mean I have “advanced” taste buds. I like cycling but it doesn’t mean I am any good at it. In fact, the more you read about supertasters, the more you realize that they (scientists and researchers) don’t really know anything about it. Every since a DuPont researcher discovered it in the `60’s, they have been trying to put this information to use, with no definitive conclusion.

Experts think that supertasters tend not to like bitter foods such as raw broccoli, grapefruit juice, coffee, and dark chocolate. Evidence suggests they also are more sensitive to fattiness in foods which means they may eat healthier, avoiding fatty foods. This makes sense since supertasters tend to be thin, or at least not fat. Not suprisingly, each of these theories has an equally good counterpoint. For example, for those who say that supertasters are protected against the bitter and dangerous compounds that plants produce (as part of their defense), one can argue that they lose out on the cancer fighting benefits of certain bitter compounds.

In addition to bitter and fatty foods, supertasters tend to find sugary foods less palatable. When I surveyed my panel, I got a mixed bag of results. For example, I would suggest that most foodies like fatty foods (yes, there is a correlation between foodies and supertasters). Also, coffee (especially bitter espresso) and dark chocolate are considered connoisseur foodie items. I had one friend who I would safely say is as far away from foodie as you can get take the test. I expected her to fail, but nope, she ended up being a supertaster. When I asked if she was a picky eater as a child (a question I already knew the answer to), she replied with a resounding yes.

Without further adieu, here are the rest of the results, in order:

Drew; Roomate; Foodie. I live with her and she’s quite knowledgeable about food; Result: Supertaster

Myself; Foodie; Result: Supertaster

Alex; Roommate; Not Quite A Foodie (Yet). I think Alex’s palette has grown the most this past year; Result: Supertaster

Dave B; Friend; Not really sure how I’d label him but he does know good food; Result: Supertaster

Kelly; Friend; Definitely not a foodie but the pickiest eater I have ever met; Result: Supertaster

(Last test for Steph when I see her)

Total: 5/5 supertasters!

In conclusion .. there isn’t much of one! I though it would have been special to be a supertaster but everyone I tested was one! Confused, I emailed Doug and suggested the strips may be defective but he assured me that the results from his survey, fall in line with expected (25% of Americans, 15% men, 35% women, higher percentage in Asians and African Americans, and foodies) results.

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