What’s a Supertaster, you ask?
Well, I hate to brag, but that would be me. I’m a supertaster. It’s kind of like being Wonder Woman without the warrior princess gadgets. My super powers are in my taste buds, not in indestructible click-click bracelets or projectile tiaras.
Okay, I’ll be honest. It’s not that big of a deal—25% of us are supertasters. We’ve inherited a higher-than-normal number of taste buds and are typically more sensitive to strong, bitter foods. Think raw broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, grapefruit juice, whiskey, wine, dark chocolate, coffee. We don’t like those foods.
Although I have the supertaster genotype, I do like (have come to like) all those choices with the exception of whiskey. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, let’s take a brief look at the genetics behind food dislikes—or variations of that theme. Maybe your kid is a “picky eater” for a reason.
Supertaster’s have cell proteins on their tongues that detect intense, bitter flavors. All genes encode proteins with information from our DNA. I happen to have the gene that is the protein blueprint for an overwhelmingly bitter taste. But what makes all this interesting is the mix of our genes and our personal and environmental variations. I’ve managed to override some of my genetically predisposed, taste quirkiness by tweaking the quality of the food. That, and my willingness to experiment. Some of these bitter foods are incredibly healthy and contain cancer-protective substances, so broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts have become favorites of mine. That’s my phenotype at work. I haven’t turned the gene off, I’ve simply tweaked the stimulus (my food environment) in a positive way to pull a fast one on my supertaster gene.
Let’s take this one step further. By purchasing high quality versions of these foods (fresh, organic) and taking the time to prepare them in a way that accentuates the flavors I that I do like, I end up supplying my body with phytonutrients (plant chemicals) that promote good health. That way, I can get my foot (phytonutrient) in the door (cell) to turn certain other genes off or on. I can discourage disease-promoting genes and encourage health-warrior genes. We have the power to do that.
Back to supertaster foods. I don’t like raw broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower, but I do like all those vegetables drizzled with a small amount of olive oil, dusted with Simply Organic All-Purpose Seasoning, sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and lightly roasted. I don’t like most types of coffee (Starbucks is over-the-top bitter to me) or most types of wine, but I do like my mellow, organic, breakfast blend coffee mixed with a little coconut milk and I love having a glass of nice, smooth red wine. But, a lot of wine does taste bitter and acidic to me, to the point that I literally turn up my nose and shiver. There are only a few dark chocolates that I like and I much prefer them topped with a little sea salt. Grapefruit juice I can totally do without. I’m also a salt-aholic, but only with good quality sea salt. Salt masks bitterness, so it makes sense that supertasters are heavy-handed with the salt grinder.
Are you wondering how I know I’m a supertaster?
I took the test. Researchers have discovered a chemical that, when applied to a strip of paper and placed on the tongue, distinguishes between non-tasters, medium-tasters, and super-tasters. I ordered the test strips and was overwhelmed by the bitter taste. Seriously bitter. I actually thought I’d be a non- or medium-taster because I like most of the foods on the list, but after the test and some thought, I realized that I’ve simply adjusted to being a supertaster. I had a couple of other people take the test and they had absolutely no reaction. None. They didn’t taste anything. I couldn’t believe it as I could hardly stand the taste. Apparently supertasters experience flavors with about three times the intensity of others.
Why do you think some people are supertasters? Is that an evolutionary advantage or a disadvantage?
Say you’re out doing some gathering during the Paleolithic era and you grab a handful of leaves. You take a bite, find the leaves extremely unpleasant, nasty-tasting and bitter, so you spit them out. Maybe you just saved yourself from an untimely death due to ingesting toxic plant chemicals. Good one. I’m glad I’m a supertaster.
But wait, food was scarce back then. You can’t be picky. My non-taster neighbor will eat anything, therefore having more chance of survival when times are tough.
What’s your theory? Are you a supertaster? Is that good or bad?
While you think about it, here’s a recipe for roasted broccoli and cauliflower.
Roasted broccoli and cauliflower
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup cauliflower florets
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
Simply Organic All-Purpose Seasoning (I have nothing to do with this company, I just love this seasoning and use it on everything.)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
2. Place florets in a medium bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss to cover. Sprinkle with herb seasoning, sea salt, and pepper. Toss again.
3. Place florets in a shallow baking dish and sprinkled with garlic.
4. Place baking dish on the center rack of oven and roast for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Stir occasionally to insure even browning.
Note: Broccoli stalks are wonderful roasted. All these foods are almost undetectable used raw in small amounts blended into smoothies.
Okay, what do you think? I’m curious. What’s the point of the supertaster gene? Did it evolve as a protective mechanism or was it a detriment to survival?
Peace, love and the wonderful world of genetics!