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Published on April 12th, 2013 | by Yellow Magpie


Supertasters And Non-Tasters: It’s All About The Tongue

Supertasters And Non-Tasters: The Human Tongue

The world of taste is far more subjective than you might first imagine. At the extreme ends of the spectrum there are Supertasters and Non-Tasters.

Taste is something that few people give much consideration to. We have a tendency to take for granted our senses and extrapolate our experiences onto others. The reality is that we all perceive sensations differently and when it comes to taste our observations can be unique.

The Supertasters

Supertasters experience food with a far greater intensity and richer variety than other people. This can be a doubled-edged sword. Although they might derive greater pleasure from eating the opposite is also true. Foods can become too sweet, too spicy or too hot and chilli peppers, in particular, can pose problems for some. Bitter flavours are also amplified and they are more sensitive to the umani tastes too.

Some might even experience side-effects such as tasting cooking implements, wood and washing-up liquid in their food. Supertasters may also be more prone to picky eating. Although in time they may learn to moderate this tendency and eat with a more varied palate.

Women are more likely to be supertasters. Just over one-in-three women compared to one-in-seven men are highly sensitive to taste.

Supertasters And Non-Tasters The Tongue Showing Fungiform Papillae

The Non-Tasters

On the other end of the scale reside the non-tasters. These are people who have difficulty discerning tastes. It is believed that one quarter of the population are non-tasters. For them food can be quite bland and dull.

People who are non-tasters need more flavourings be it salty, sweet, sour, or bitter. They may have great difficulty discerning the fifth type of taste – umami.

Why There Are Such Variations?

The question of why some people are highly sensitive to taste while others are relatively insensitive probably can be attributed to evolutionary survival. Supertasters have a heightened ability to perceive bitter tastes which are closely associated with poisonous plants.

It is also noteworthy that women are much more likely to be in the sensitive category than men as it is women who become pregnant and carry the foetal offspring. History has also shown that women are generally tasked with preparing sustenance – emphasising the importance of having acute taste to be able to discern harmful foods.

Nonetheless, as taste and smell researcher Linda Bartoshuk postulates, supertasting’s great advantage may be geographical-based. In new, unfamiliar areas having the ability to discern possible poisonous plants is a good survival adaptation. In places where foods are familiar this advantage becomes a disadvantage as many healthy but bitter-tasting foods would be off the menu.

Therefore, in familiar areas being a non-taster is a distinct advantage whereas being a supertaster is an advantage in new environments.

It’s All About The Tongue

Contrary to the popular myth the tongue is not divided into areas that perceive different types of tastes. Though some parts may be slightly more sensitive to certain tastes the differences are minuscule.

Your ability to taste foods, and whether or not you are a supertaster or a non-taster, is based on the amount of fungiform papillae on your tongue. Those with higher concentrations experience more intense flavours while people who have less than the average number of papillae are quite insensitive to taste – non-tasters.

Supertasters And Non-Tasters Blue-dyed Tongue

Supertasters And Non-Tasters: How Do You Know?

The easiest method of finding out which range you fall into is by using a mirror to examine the amount of fungiform papillae and note the density. You can cut a circular hole in a piece of paper and simply count the number. Linda Bartoshuk recommends a six millimetre diameter hole with blue dye to make the papillae more visible. Those with less than six papillae in the area are non-tasters while those with more than 15 are supertasters.

Roughly 50 percent of people will be in the medium category with 25 percent forming the supertaster group and the remaining quarter comprising of non-tasters.

Further Reading

You might like to check out Yellow Magpie’s Chocolate: Dark Deliciousness and Candy: Sweet Heaven.

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