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Supertaster, Able to Taste Bitter in a Single Bite…

Once again Chef Fans it is time for me to put up a paper that I wrote for a class. Now this time it is really more of a fun paper as we were told that we could use our own writing style but that we had to make it look and fee a bit more scientific. This is the paper that I put together for the culmination of my work in Physiology & Perception so even though it may have a strange-sounding name I still think that it is a fun read. Strangely enough there are some very common elements int it from my other papers because the school and my teachers seem very interested in how my family has influenced my life. I haven’t figured out why this is yet but I’m working on it…enjoy!…

Effects of genetics and environment on human flavor preferences

A case study by Grant Klover.

Supertaster, Taster, and Non-Taster (oh my!)

First and for most we must set a guideline for what we are going to be talking about and branch out from there. To answer this we must first discuss what are a Supertaster, Taster, and Non-Taster. Supertasters are people who because of genetics have developed a greater sensitivity to bitter taste then both tasters, and non-tasters. Granted this is an over simplification of the term but it lays down the basics and allows us to build upon them for our definitions of tasters and non-tasters. A taster is the base line of what almost everyone on the earth is and they have a normal reaction to bitter taste. Tasters may not like pure bitter taste but the reaction they have is far less when compared with a supertaster. A non-taster would then be a person who does not recognize the taste bitter.

We Are Not All Supertasters

This is a very rare trait indeed because let’s say that 1 in 10 are supertasters, that would mean that about 1 in 1000 are non-tasters.  The fact is, scientists say supertasters do not necessarily have more sensitive taste buds, but a lot more than usual sometimes, 100 times more than normal. This results in supertasters tasting what we can’t detect with our normal taste buds. Or, they experience tastes at a much higher level than usual. Another interesting fact is that women tend to fit into the supertaster category more often than men.

I am a Taster

Since this is a case study of myself and how I fit into the categories of: Supertaster, Taster, and Non-Taster I guess we should talk about how we discover your own level and what section you fit into. The test itself is very easy and unless you are a supertaster not really that unpleasant. Supertasters were initially identified on the basis of the perceived intensity of propylthiouracil (PROP). However, because supertasters have a larger sense of taste than tasters or non-tasters, this can cause scaling effects.  However, many studies do not include a cross-modal reference and simply categorize individuals on the basis of the bitterness of a concentrated PROP solution or PROP impregnated paper. It is also possible to make a reasonably accurate self-diagnosis at home by careful examination of the tongue and looking for the number of fungi-form papillae.

Alright I know I went a little bit strong with the science lingo in that last paragraph but hang with me and I’ll explain. How does one make a careful examination of your tongue and the fungi-form papillae? Simply take a blue food coloring and drop it onto your tongue, and then press it to a strip of paper. The little dots you see will be your taste buds and if you count 35 you are a taster, if you count more or less than this you are a supertaster or a non-taster respectively.

When I did the test I had the luxury of taking it with PROP impregnated paper and was told by the test administrator that I was a supertaster. This really didn’t seem right to me as I really didn’t have a reaction to the paper at all; yes it was bitter but not unbearably so no more so than drinking a cup of coffee. With this thought in mind I went home and found a self test, blue food coloring test, and tested myself again. In this test I counted 35 little dots on the paper, and to be more positive of this I preformed the test again hours apart from the first test. All three times that I tested myself I came up a taster, to which I was not surprised as I come from a family full of tasters.

Nature vs. Nurture

When it comes down to it I know that I myself am a taster because my mother, father, sister and grandparents don’t show any aversion to bitter taste. I would almost argue that we are closer to non-tasters than supertasters because we all like to eat and drink bitter foods and drinks. The only person who may have been a supertaster in my family is my mother and for this we shall take a closer look at both my mother and father and the diets that they both had and have. Before we jump right in one point that is needed to better understand the way that I grew up with food is that my parent’s devoiced when I was six years old and I would spend alternating weeks with both my mother and father. While I was at one house I would eat very differently than while I was at the other house because my mother was a “pescetarian” and my father was an omnivore.

Spending a week at my mom house was never a dull moment when it came to eating. Since she would eat fish I was not solely starved for meat but for the most part we ate a lot of greens and vegetables. This was not a real change for her as she had really only started eating meat when she met my father but before they got together she was almost a straight vegetarian and had been so for a very long time. She claims that is was a choice she had made because she didn’t like the chemicals being put into the food and that she wanted to be healthier. This could have been a reaction to the bitter taste of some of these chemicals but then why the love of the bitter greens? I remember my mother cooking asparagus for us several times a week, spinach more often than that, two of the arguably bitterest green vegetables out there to eat. My mom also has a love for a good dark stout beer, and until just recently was a heavy coffee drinker. She prefers teas more than coffee now but tea is still bitter and I would spend a week at a time eating and drinking the foods that my mother provided.

Now this is not to say that I only ate meat at my father’s house because this would just be a false statement. In fact I remember very distinctly that we would have some sort of green at every meal time. This could have been a salad or even to both my fathers and sisters delight Brussels sprouts. While I do not share their revenues love for the sprouts I did not dislike them. My dad was the one to actually make me my first cup of coffee and I think I was not much older than 7 or 8 years old.

The point that I am trying to get across was that in my family we would eat and drink bitter things all the time, and I would never shy away from them. If I ever was a supertaster I was broken of it from a very early age by just the sheer amount of bitter items that I ate as a child. I didn’t have to go out and train myself to like different foods; in fact when we did go out it was always an adventure.

Melting Pot and the Love of Food

Before we can really get into the adventures I am talking about you have to understand where I am from. I’m am from Kansas and while this may not really seem like that big of a deal think about it this way. Kansas City is one of the few big melting pots of the United States. Saint Louis Missouri is home to the Saint Louis arch also known as the “gateway to the west” and Kansas City straddles both sides of the Missouri river. Throughout our history whenever anyone was moving North, South, East, or West they would stop in Kansas City before moving on to their final destination.  This is most evident in the cattle drives and has made Kansas a state known for the BBQ.

BBQ can and will be served a number of different ways but one thing is always the same, it’s going to involve fire, whether it is grilled or smoked fire is still involved. One thing that is going to happen because of the use of fire is charring, and what is charring if not pure bitterness? As a good Kansas boy I grew up on BBQ and love it, but this was not the only type of food that I had access to.

Being the gateway that it is Kansas has taken and adapted to all the different types of cultures that have come to it over the years. In my little part of the city alone I can think of every type of cuisine out there. Cuisine like BBQ and everything up to sushi, and even Korean and Indian cuisine have found a home in Kansas. With growing up around so many different styles of cuisine, and having parents who liked and took us out to them I grew up loving different foods and the way they could be prepared from different cultures. I learned that food was an adventure to be enjoyed and that unless you where willing to try something you could say that you didn’t like it.

Conclusion

Looking back and rereading everything that has been talked about in this paper the case can be made without a shadow of a doubted in my mind that I am a taster. Any chance I had of being a supertaster was crushed under a big slab of charred ribs fresh from the grill. The environment of my home town and both of my parents exposed my taste buds to so much bitterness and other taste that I simply had no choice but to learn to love and appreciate the world of food around me and all that it can bring to the table. With the effects of my parents and their taste influencing my genetics, melting pot environments like Kansas City and its cuisine, the flavor preferences that I have now would simply not be the same if I was anything but a taster.

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3 Comments on “Supertaster, Able to Taste Bitter in a Single Bite…”

  1. Grandma August 30, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    Fun comments. Loved this post.

  2. Tori August 30, 2011 at 8:41 pm #

    I absolutely love this paper honey!! I am so glad it turned out like it did. 🙂

  3. leaf52 September 5, 2011 at 5:56 pm #

    Heavy coffee drinker??? I hardly think so! Where did THAT come from?? Kahula, yes, maybe one cup of coffee in the morning yes, but usually tea, and no more than one cup of coffee in a day. Hardly qualifies as heavy coffee drinking in my book.

    I’d guess that not too many of your fellow students or people in general are raised by a pescetarian/omnivore combination so I’m sure we had some weird effects on you, besides just being the people we are. 😉 Therefore that probably makes you an interesting subject yourself.

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