Supertasters

What makes a person “picky”? Is it fear? or stubbornness! NO it’s supertasting!

There is nothing wrong with being “picky,” and there are many outside factors that contribute to picky eating. However, if you are someone who is often called a picky eater by your friends and family, you might not be picky, you may just be a supertaster!

The average person has about 10,000 individual taste buds. These taste buds are made up of anywhere  between 50 - 150 taste receptor cells. The chemicals in our food that are dissolved by saliva are the components that triggers our taste receptors. These receptors send a message to the gustatory section of our brain where the sense of taste is interpreted.

About a quarter of all people fall into this super taster category, while half are “medium tasters” and a quarter “non-tasters.” Supertasters have more taste buds than the average person and some research indicates that they experience flavors three-times more intensely. Each taste receptor senses a single flavor: salty, sour, sweet, bitter, or umami. Umami is a word that describes the savory flavor that often occurs when we eat “meaty” foods.

Supertasters are more sensitive to bitter tasting foods like broccoli, brussel sprouts, beer, kale and coffee. On the other hand, supertasters also have quite the sweet tooth, but can only handle small bites at a time. Similarly, they are very sensitive to artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharine and can can taste the artificial flavors in diet sodas, in their coffee or tea, and in protein shakes as well.

Theories suggest that when our ancestors were seaching for new land, they had to figure out which unfamiliar plants were safe for them to eat. Plants, just like animals, have defense mechanisms, and specific plants release toxins that taste very bitter to mammals. Supertasters were able to avoid death because of their bitterness sensitivity. They were also in charge of alerting the non-tasters they traveled with of the poisonous plants.

As babies, we are born with the preference for sweet and salty flavors but reject bitter tastes. Bitter is a learned taste and is acquired as we grow from babies to adulthood. With this being said, supertasters have an even harder time acquiring the preference for bitter foods. Supertasters will say this ability is both a blessing and a curse. The bitter tasting foods are extremely bitter, but the sweet foods are sweeter than ever. These sensations really do have large influences on individual eating behaviors and habits.

The next time a person points out your so called “picky eating” in a negative fashion, make sure to let them know that you may not be picky, you may be a supertaster.

Photo Credit: Samantha Gitlin

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