Tuesday, March 08, 2005

NJ: Supertaster

Things I DO NOT LIKE to eat:
  • Fish
  • Tomatoes (tomato sauce is OK)
  • Fatty meats (lean cuts are OK)
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Spinach
  • Black coffee and tea (I need milk and sugar)
  • Dry wines
  • Tonic water
Things I CAN eat, but wouldn't buy:
  • Olives
  • Beer
What do these things have in common? They're all foods that supertasters have problems with. That's right, I'm a supertaster. Deal with it, mortal.

Actually, there's nothing 'super' about it. I have a higher-density of fungiform papillae on my tongue, which makes me more sensitive to certain chemicals, like 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP). This bitter chemical is found in green vegetables. And it's not exactly uncommon; in the US population, about 25% are supertasters, 50% are normal, and 25% are nontasters (the other end of the spectrum). Females and Caucasians are more likely to be supertasters than Males and Asians, respectively.

But it's not just PROP. Flavonoids (found in many fruits and vegetables) are likewise extremely bitter. The problem is that flavonoids are healthy antioxidant chemicals, and avoiding them increases my likelihood of DIEING FROM CANCER. :-(

There are also some things that other supertasters might avoid, that I enjoy.

Things I LIKE to eat:
  • Dark chocolate
  • Grapefruit
  • Cheese
So, it varies. And basically, the world says "Suck it up, and deal." In addition to the people that refuse to believe in supertasters, classifying them simply as 'picky eaters', there are people that know better and just don't care. Danielle Reed, PhD, of Philadelphia's Monell Chemical Senses Center, says there's no excuse for avoiding vegetables.
"After all look at how many bitter-sensitive people learn to love coffee and gin and tonics."
Sigh. If only it were that simple. I've been eating fish and other seafood nearly every weekday since school began September 1st last year, and I STILL can't finish a piece of fish. And I REALLY TRY! Sigh.

At least the sensitivity declines as one ages, not to mention the fact that I have reduced sensitivity in the first place due to an ear infection when I was young (ear infections damage your taste nerves). Is it possible I got the ear infection from stuffing peas in my ears, because I couldn't eat them? (Answer: no, those incidents occurred years apart, but still...the potential irony...)

So, do you think you could be a supertaster?

Take this highly unscientific test, or if you're really curious, this scientific one.

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