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The way you experience the taste of your food and drink might be totally different than the person with whom you’re dining — even if that person is related to you.
What's in this Guide?
- What Is a Supertaster?
- Who Is Most Likely To Be a Supertaster?
- Causes of "Supertasting"
- Diagnosis of Supertasters
- Supertasters Food Preferences and Aversions
- Health Implications of Being a Supertaster
- The Pros and Cons of Being a Supertaster
- How To Control Your Food Choices
Disclaimer: Before You Read
It is important to know that your genes are not your destiny. There are various environmental and genetic factors working together to shape you. No matter your genetic makeup, maintain ideal blood pressure and glucose levels, avoid harmful alcohol intake, exercise regularly, get regular sleep. And for goodness sake, don't smoke.
Genetics is a quickly changing topic. Read More...
But that doesn’t mean your genetics don’t play a role in how your sense of taste works.
They actually have a pretty big part in it. That’s why those of us at YourDNA.com created this article — to show you how your genetics affect your sense of taste and help you determine whether you’re a supertaster, average taster, or nontaster.
What Is a Supertaster?
Supertasters are people who taste phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) and propylthiouracil (PROP), two compounds found in leafy greens directly related to the bitter taste, more intensely than others.
To these people, a bitterness that an average taster can tolerate is completely vile because they have a variant on their TAS2R38 receptor sitting on the surface of bitter-sensing taste buds that binds to these chemicals.
Contrary to popular belief, supertasters aren’t simply people who have a super sense of taste. However, supertasters are often also highly sensitive to sweet and spicy foods.
The term supertaster is attributed to Linda Bartoshuk, a professor at the University of Florida.
She conducted the early research into the genetic differences in taste and discovered that 25% of people are supertasters, 25% of people are non-tasters, and the remaining 50% of people have an average ability to taste 1. Ironically, she’s a non-taster.
Characteristics of a Supertaster
Bartoshuk’s initial research into supertasters involved the anatomy of the tongue.
She determined that to be a supertaster, a person had to have wall-to-wall papillae on his or her tongue and an ability to taste PROP — a bitter compound typically used in thyroid medication.
However, a 2014 study conducted by the Department of Health Sciences, Denver Museum of Nature & Science proved people with the TAS2R38 variant may not have more taste buds than average tasters 2.
This debunked a portion of Bartoshuk’s initial research and defined the term supertaster further.
All supertasters have the variant of the TAS2R38 gene that makes them sensitive to bitter flavors.
However, some of the other characteristics of supertasters are similar too. If you or someone in your family is a supertaster, you might notice some of these supertaster symptoms:
- Cake tastes too sweet
- Most beer tastes sharp and unappealing
- Dark chocolate is intense and bitter
- Cream is too creamy
- Spicy food and hot peppers are painful to eat
- Coffee is too bitter
One ingredient may be a must for you if you’re a supertaster — salt. Because vegetables tend to taste extremely bitter to supertasters, many mask the bitter taste by adding an excess amount of salt to their food.
Also, some supertasters think cilantro tastes like soap 3. But if you are a carrier of the OR6A2 gene, which affects between 4% and 14% of the population, it can also cause cilantro to taste like soap.
Supertasters and alcohol don’t mix well, either. Beer is typically very sharp and unappealing to them.
It’s also very rare that a supertaster is also a smoker because the taste of nicotine is so overwhelming to them.
Of course, an aversion to leafy greens rules out a lot of veggies, which can be horrible for your diet.
However, there are some vegetables for supertasters that can easily be included in their diets:
- Sweet potatoes
- Snap peas
Who Is Most Likely To Be a Supertaster?
Supertasters are people who have inherited a dominant variant of the TAS2R38 gene from their parents. So for you to be a supertaster, both of your parents have to carry the dominant TAS2R38 gene and you have to inherit the dominant variant from them both.
You receive one of each specific gene from each of your parents. So if both of your parents are supertasters, meaning they both have two dominant variants of the TAS2R38 gene, you would have a 100% chance of being a supertaster.
If only one of your parents is a supertaster, you wouldn’t be a supertaster unless your other parent is a carrier of the TAS2R38 variant.
This means your other parent has one normal TAS2R38 gene and one dominant variant of the gene. In this case, you would have a 50% chance of being a supertaster.
You can be a supertaster if your parents aren’t as long as they are both carriers of the dominant TAS2R38 gene and both pass the dominant version down to you.
So if your parents aren’t supertasters, but they are carriers of the gene, you have a 25% chance of being a supertaster.
Also, for reasons unknown, women are more likely to be supertasters than men 4.
What Percentage of the Population Are Supertasters?
Scientists have determined that 25% of the population are supertasters and 25% of the popular are non-tasters. The remaining 50% of the population are average tasters.
Causes of "Supertasting"
Supertasting is caused when a person has a variant in the TAS2R38 gene that enhances the bitterness in food and beverages.
This characteristic is passed down from generation to generation. If you receive the variant TAS2R38 gene from both of your parents, you are a supertaster.
Taste Buds and Genetics
Genetics play a role in the way food and drinks taste to you. Supertasters are born with a dominant variant of the TAS2R38 gene, which makes bitterness more severe, but there are also other ways your genetics can affect your sense of taste.
For example, people who are born with more taste buds than the average person have a strong sense of taste.
Unlike those with the variant TAS2R38 gene, everything they taste is enhanced. However, bitterness is still tolerable to them.
Supertasters who have more taste buds than average have a sense of taste that’s enhanced overall, but the variation in their TAS2R38 gene still makes bitterness unbearable.
Supertasters who only have the variant TAS2R38 gene without an increased amount of taste buds still have an aversion to bitter-tasting food and drinks, as well as some sweets and salt.
However, other foods might not bother them at all.
Some people are also born with the OR6A2 gene, which makes cilantro taste like soap.
This is a characteristic that’s seen in some supertasters, but you can have the OR6A2 gene without being a supertaster.
Diagnosis of Supertasters
There are several ways you can determine if you might be a supertaster, but because supertasters have a variant in the TAS2R38 gene, you can’t confirm the diagnosis without a DNA test.
The Supertaster Test is a simple, cost-effective way to determine if you might be a supertaster. The test is similar to the one originally conducted by Linda Bartoshuk.
The test kit includes a PROP test strip. When you put it on your tongue, it will either taste bland, bitter, or extremely vile to you.
If the strip tastes vile, you have a highly sensitive sense of taste and could be a supertaster. If it tastes bitter, you have an average sense of taste, and if it takes bland, or like nothing at all, you’re a non-taster.
Another way you can determine if you have an acute sense of taste is to take a supertaster quiz such as WebMD’s Taste Assessment.
This simple quiz is basically a palate test. It asks you a series of questions regarding your likes and dislikes when it comes to food and beverages.
Supertaster Test Kits Currently Available
There is only one type of Supertaster test kit available, but you can purchase them in bulk if you’re testing your whole family.
Each kit contains enough test strips to complete two tests, so you would order one kit for every two people you’re testing.
The supertaster test kit instructions are simple. Each test uses a PROP strip to determine how well you tolerate a bitter taste.
To complete the test, you place the strip on your tongue. The strip will either taste bland, bitter or completely disgusting to you.
If you can’t tolerate the taste of the strip, there’s a good chance you’re a supertaster.
If it’s bitter but bearable, you have an average sense of taste, and if it tastes bland or like nothing at all, you’re considered a non-taster.
At-Home Supertaster Tests
You can also conduct your own supertaster test DIY style if you want. There are two ways to do this — the saccharin test or the blue tongue test.
The Saccharin Test
To complete the saccharin test:
- Mix one packet of saccharin, which is an artificial sweetener like Sweet ‘N Low, into 2/3-cup of water.
- Take a drink of the water paying close attention to what you taste — you’ll probably taste a combination of sweetness and bitterness, but the two will either taste about equal or one will be more prevalent.
If you have a bitter aftertaste in your mouth, there’s a chance you might be a supertaster.
If sweetness stands out to you, there’s a chance you may be a non-taster, and if you taste them both equally, you’re average — just like most of the population.
The Blue Tongue Test
To complete the blue tongue test:
- Swab your tongue with a Q-tip covered in blue food coloring — you’ll notice that the papillae won’t turn blue. Instead, they’ll remain pink so they stand out.
- Place a hole punch reinforcer on your tongue, over the blue portion.
- Count the number of papillae you see in the center of the hole punch reinforcer.
If you have more than 35 papillae in the center of the hole punch reinforcer, you have an above-average amount of taste buds.
This means you probably have a hypersensitivity to taste and you might be a supertaster.
People who count between 15 and 35 papillae have an average number of taste buds, but could still be a supertaster if they have the TAS2R38 variant.
Those who count less than 15 papillae have fewer taste buds than the average person.
While they technically could still have the TAS2R38 variant gene, their sense of taste is dulled enough that bitterness might not bother them.
Supertasters Food Preferences and Aversions
In most cases, supertasters have an aversion to any foods and beverages that have even a slightly bitter taste.
They normally have strong adverse reactions to broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, and any other vegetables with a bitter taste, as well as coffee and alcohol.
Some supertasters also find that sweet foods taste extremely sweet and sodium is more salty to them than others — but that doesn’t stop them from using salt to mask the bitter taste of some foods.
It’s difficult to find a list of foods supertasters like because, like everyone, they all have specific food preferences.
Because a portion of your sense of taste is learned, not genetic, not all supertasters like or dislike the same things.
For example, one supertaster may like broccoli as long as it has cheese on it, while another may not be able to tolerate the bitterness of broccoli at all.
Health Implications of Being a Supertaster
Being a supertaster has some benefits, but it’s possible for the condition to impact your health long-term.
Because some supertasters avoid vegetables altogether, they have an increased risk of colon cancer. The excess amount of salt they consume also could put them at high risk for heart disease and high blood pressure.
The Pros and Cons of Being a Supertaster
You might think it’d be great to be a supertaster, but like anything else, it has its pros and cons.
For example, you might think that if you’re a supertaster, you could be an amazing, well-known chef or wine aficionado.
But that’s not the reality for a supertaster. Jobs revolving around tasting food and beverages may not be appealing to them at all because of their heightened sense of taste.
The pros of being a supertaster include:
- Most avoid cigarettes and alcohol because they can’t tolerate the bitterness.
- Many don’t have trouble maintaining a healthy weight because they tend to avoid sweet and fatty foods that typically have an excessive amount of calories — they can be overwhelming and off-putting to them.
While there are advantages of being a supertaster, there are disadvantages as well, including:
- Consuming an excess amount of sodium could put them at risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.
- Avoiding vegetables could increase their risk for colon cancer.
- Avoiding vegetables could result in a vitamin deficiency.
How To Control Your Food Choices
The good news for supertasters is that some of your taste preferences are learned, not inherited.
This was confirmed when biopsychologist Julie Mennella of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia conducted supertaster research that found 7-month-old babies typically didn’t like sour and bitter flavors 5.
However, if babies were introduced to bitter or sour formula before they were 7 months old, they happily continued to drink it.
This study proved that while genetics play a huge role in your sense of taste, learned behavior can alter your perception over time.
This means that early exposure to a variety of foods can enable a person to trust those foods later in life. If someone who is a supertaster was exposed to bitter foods from an early age, he or she may find it easier to tolerate them throughout life.
Unfortunately, parents don’t often discover their children are supertasters until they already have extreme aversions to specific foods.
They don’t realize their child’s food aversions could be caused because he or she is a supertaster. Picky eater is the term more often used by parents of children who refuse to eat veggies, after all.
If you’re a supertaster, you can try to control your food choices by adding vegetables to your diet slowly and masking them with other flavors to make them more tolerable.
For example, you could add shredded veggies to a pasta dish.
After a few weeks, try adding vegetables to your meals without shredding them.
Because your taste receptors only live for a few weeks before they are replaced with new ones, you can retrain yourself to tolerate different types of food.
Of course, because you have the variant TAS2R38 gene, you’ll never be able to handle excessive bitterness completely.
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- Super-Tasters and Non-Tasters: Is it Better to Be Average?
Guy Crosby, PhD, CFS. 31 May 2016.
- Frontiers. "Supertasters do not have particularly high density of taste buds on tongue, crowdsourcing shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 May 2014.
- How Your Genetics Influence Your Taste Buds.
Cheyenne Buckingham. 7 July 2016.
- Are You a Supertaster?
Kimberly Holland, Alana Biggers, MD. 21 February 2019.
- A Matter of Taste.
Mary Beckman. August, 2004.