Supertasters are people who have a heightened sense of taste when compared to a control group. Studies on the subject vary because taste is a perceived reaction to foods and drink. In most cases, study participants are asked to rate bitterness or saltiness after tasting a salt solution. Without a baseline trial, a scale of 1 to 10 is irrelevant because each person will rate a given number differently. For instance, a four to one person may be a two to another.
John Hayes, assistant professor at Penn State, recently conducted a study involving supertasters and nontasters. According to the study, supertasters may consume more salt than other people out of necessity rather than desire. When the taste of food is intensified, the less desirable tastes like bitterness are often highlighted. Salt can reduce bitter tastes on the tongue and thus supertasters tend to gravitate to salty foods and snacks. Hayes describes supertasters as “living in a neon world of food” while nontasters “live in a pastel food world.”
The study included 87 non-smoking participants in good health. They were asked to sample foods and rate saltiness from barely there to overpowering. Samples were spread out over a period of week to average reactions over a given period. Hayes also noted that nontasters were more likely to add salt to foods because they cannot taste salt, and potentially other taste bud variations, in the same way supertasters or regular tasters can.
Foods That Cause Trouble for Supertasters
Common foods that may cause reactions from supertasters include alcohol, cabbage, coffee, and grapefruit juice. Other foods include kale, spinach, and green tea. Foods that are very bitter, very sweet, or very salty to the common tongue can also produce a more drastic reaction on the tongue for supertasters. The effect is not life threatening, however, and is not typically treated with medical intervention. Supertasters are affected by genetic difference in tongue papillae. These differences are the same as eye color, hair color, or skin color. Variations are expected even within the same family and thus doctors do not treat the condition.
Learning to Live as a Supertaster
Supertasters must learn what foods to eat and avoid through trial and error. If one food tastes overly bitter, sour, or sweet, they may wish to avoid the food in the future. Not all supertasters react to the same food and thus no definitive list of foods to avoid can be written.
Hayes, John, and Valerie Duffy. “Penn State Live – Some People Do Not Taste Salt like Others.”Penn State Live – The University’s Official News Source. Penn State, 16 June 2010. Web. 23 June 2010.