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Jan 15, 2007 03:29 PM

Supertasters Unite!

I want to hear more from supertasters, what you really dislike and really like and most importantly how you became a chowhound despite being very sensitive to bitterness etc. If you're just really picky please do not respond. I have a supertaster in my house who is not a chowhound but who is interested broadening culinary horizons but it's been difficult. Thanks.

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  1. I've always wondered why I and other members of my family so dislike the taste of fresh coriander/cilantro, while others adore it. I recently attended a workshop given by Harold McGee, and posed the question to him. It turns out that there is a genetic component involved with how we perceive flavours.

    I forget the scientific explanation, but I think what he said is that some people are born with certain papillae on their tongues that others are not born with, and this results in their tasting certain foods as soapy or excessively bitter, etc.

    But don't quote me on this explanation. My memory ain't what it used to be.

    2 Replies
    1. re: FlavoursGal

      I attend a seminar given by Lawry's at a chef's convention on the physiology of taste. It was fascinating! They gave you a plate with sections, and in each section was something to put in your mouth to taste. Some were pieces of paper soaked in something to make them bitter or sweet, other things were fresh herbs. Everyone was instructed to taste a certain numbered square and then write down what we thought it tasted like. Everyone was different. What some thought was bitter, didn't bother someone else, or had no taste to them.

      FlavoursGal, I think you are correct.

      1. re: FlavoursGal

        The perception of soapiness is either a sensitivity to aldehyde C-12 (Dodecanal, lauric) and/or due to some varieties of cilantro that contain a bit more of this soapy aldehyde than others.

        It is not related to taste buds or the neural relays in each taste bud that transmit flavor information to the brain.


        I'd guess I'm a medium taster, but I do have a strange (to me) reaction to raw broccoli. I don't mind the taste, it's not too bitter, but after just a few bites, it's as though my throat closes, and the thought of eating more nauseates me. This is mitigated if I eat it with large amounts of dip, and I love cooked broccoli. Green tea sometimes provokes the same reaction.

        2 Replies
        1. re: JGrey

          The science of taste perception has seen many advances since that 1997 article. There have been many new discoveries since then on: the physiology of taste, the brain's taste processing center, the neural relays from each taste bud for each flavor, the smell/taste interface, the brain's "database" of flavor memory and so on.

          Bear in mind that a sensitivity to bitterness is not a sensitivity to tastes overall, merely a sensitivity to bitterness. And, an ability to taste PROP strips is only an ability to taste PROP strips and says little about bitterness sensitivity or taste acuity. We may have a hypersensitivity to some flavors, and a hyposensitivity to other flavors: each of us is a mixed bag.

          1. re: JGrey

            It sounds more like an allergy to me. You should probably avoid raw broccoli and green tea. Your throat closing is a dangerous symptom.

          2. the ability to smell is actually more important than taste. "super-sniffers" can perceive up to 10,000 different aromas, but the average person tops out at a few thousand. women have more sensitivity to smells than do men. i'm a sommelier and have a very keen sense of smell.

            as far as tasting, everybody has the same number of tastebuds, but sensitivity to different foods vary. i've heard too that it depends on when babies are exposed to flavors as to whether as an adult they prefer salty, sweet, sour or bitter.

            i'm confused as to why your daughter is having trouble though. we all have likes and dislikes. the more she tries, the further along she'll get.

            2 Replies
            1. re: hotoynoodle

              Not true about everyone having the same number of tastebuds - look around online, some have more than others...the 'test' for supertasters is to use blue dye and count according to the research done at Yale:

              1. re: krissywats

                The number of taste buds means little in the overall scheme of taste physiology. More important is the ability of the neural relays in each taste bud to transmit info to the brain, and the working status of the brain's taste processing center. The relays can down-regulate (transmit less infomation when repeatedly exposed to spicy foods, for example) or up-regulate. Also important: the olfactory-taste interface and how well that is working.

                Taste buds are like cell phones and making cell calls. Even if there are lots of cell phones (lots of taste buds) if the cell phones' batteries are low or dead and so the phones have little power (less information transmitted to the brain by the taste relays), or if the tower is down (the brain's processing center), few or no calls are going through (reduced or no taste perception).

            2. I'm a supertaster and I find I vastly prefer 'umami' tastes to vegetal ones, if that helps. So if there's tofu, it needs to be smoked, marinated in a sauce which has a lot of 'low' flavor notes -- something that gets rid of the high, more acidic edges. (I also have synaesthesia, which is why writing these comments was difficult for me -- tastes have definite shapes and colours for me. It makes trying to describe fish and chips very interesting.)

              6 Replies
              1. re: Selkie

                That's intriguing. I'd love to hear your description.

                1. re: Selkie

                  I hope you've read Cytowic's "The Man Who Tasted Shapes" from the late 1980s. It helped explain my synaesthesia to me (though I don't taste shapes: I just read in color and, to a lesser extent, hear in color). And I wonder if I am a supertaster, at least partly, because I am senstive to things that are too (1) sweet (2) sour (3) hot (capcaisin), especially in combination. My sensory inputs just get overwhelmed. And of course I have the palate sensitivity to cilantro.

                  1. re: Karl S

                    I am amazed. To read and hear in color. Your world must be so much more interesting than mine.

                    What is music like? And how about different books? Or different words?

                    1. re: Main Line Tracey

                      Well, I can't tell that it's more interesting, just more information. Which can be more tiring after a while, it seems, but it's also handy for memory because it gives more dimensions of information to organize and navigate memory.

                      But, back to the topic, the element it has in common with supertasting is that one is getting more inputs per unit, as it were, and it can have odd effects.

                  2. re: Selkie

                    Please post more on your experiences with synaesthesia - I think there are more of us that taste colors and hear shapes when we are tasting than we know.

                    1. re: Selkie

                      If you want there is a really interesting book about synthesia and it describes this particular form of synthesis. It is called the Frog that Croaked Blue.

                    2. I am a super taster and I guess a super smeller. Cannot tolerate saccharin so diet soda from the fountain is often a no-no. A whiff of artificial vanilla and the cookie/cake/whatever is inedible. It may have made me a good cook but it's kind of a pain in the ass.

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: lintygmom

                        lol, i don't see where not liking/avoiding diet soda and crap cookies is a problem! stuff that doesn't smell appealing TO ME just doesn't go in my mouth.

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          My husband often gets a diet Coke/Pepsi and I want a sip to cut through grease (like when we get cheesesteaks) but the saccharine gags me. He cannot tell if there is saccharine or splenda or ??? Basically I like water with food but an occasional sip of cola is useful sometimes.

                          1. re: lintygmom

                            It's not saccharine anymore; it's aspartame. Both have nasty aftertastes but they're different.

                            Even splenda has some aftertaste, to me at least. One year at Christmas my mom (who has totally changed her way of eating and cut out a lot of the stuff she fed me and my sister growing up) made cranberry sauce with splenda, and I just almost disowned her.

                            1. re: revsharkie

                              No, they still use saccharin in fountain soda syrups (not the canned kind but the kind you get from machines or in many restaurants). Saccharin is more stable than aspartame so they mix the two and then the syrup lasts longer than just aspartame.

                              1. re: lintygmom

                                Didn't know that. I thought saccharine had been banned (although that doesn't explain why you can still get those horrible pink packets). But I don't drink diet sodas from cans, bottles, or fountain, because I can't abide the taste of it. Then again, I'm starting to lose my taste for just about all pop because I can't stand how the corn syrup in it coats my mouth.

                                1. re: revsharkie

                                  You're thinking of cyclamate, I believe.

                              2. re: revsharkie

                                I can't stand artificial sweeteners, either. I had hopes for Splenda, which were immediately dashed on first taste - it was like the Disney version of sugar! Ghastly. Am I a supertaster? I don't know; maybe all those folks who like Splenda are simply NON-tasters!

                                1. re: Will Owen

                                  I can't stand anything with Splenda, either. I've discovered another sugar substitute called erythritol, which, to me, tastes like sugar. It's available in natural foods stores.

                                  1. re: FlavoursGal

                                    I used to be totally fine with Splenda (and all the other sweeteners). I switched to Stevia, and now all the others taste terrible to me - especially Sweet & Low. Go figure.

                          2. re: lintygmom

                            I am pretty musch a super sniffer. My M-I-L is not. I was cooking in her kitchen and I needed some cotton twine to tie a roast and asked her for some. She pulled a little container out of the drawer and handed me some lengths of twine and asked if that would do. The twine smelled strongly of some sort of perfume and when I asked her what had been in that box she commented on my ability to smell that fragrance, she could not deyect it but the box had held dusting powder. She never washed it out before storing the twine in it. I washed the twine well before trussing that roast. I always have to run some citrus peels down her disposer when we are there. It smells pretty bad but she has gotten used to it and does not notice it at all.

                            1. re: lintygmom

                              Very interesting! I'm a supertaster and have stopped drinking soft drinks of any kind, but when I did, there was nothing worse than being brought the wrong drink. I drank normal Dr Pepper, and getting a Diet Coke was just torture. Often I would notice from the smell that it was the wrong drink, but if I was distracted and took a sip ...

                              I'm not a picky eater and never have been ... always liked mushrooms and asparagus, and my favorite ice cream flavors as a child (coffee and pistachio) are ones I still quite like.

                              Broccoli is a little difficult, but I recently discover that if I boil rather than steam it, it is much more palatable. I have difficulty with things people say have 'no taste,' like tofu, cauliflower, and the like. I will not eat cauliflower ... I'll try tofu, but have never yet met a preparation that sends me back for more.

                              I do like umami, as another poster noted. I also like deep, complex flavors. Simple certainly has its place, but with many things I cook, just salt and pepper doesn't give me what I'm looking for.