Monthly Archives: March 2009

Are you a supertaster: How does PROP taste to you?

Got Taste?

You can determine your supertaster status by painting your tongue blue, as in the last post, but there’s a simpler, less messy way. It’s not as immediate as examining your tongue in the mirror, however. You’ll need to send away for a test strip that determines your bitter taste sensitivity.

A few posts back I wrote about the 1931 discovery that some people can taste the bitter chemical PCP and some cannot. An especially strong reaction to the bitter taste of this chemical — or to PROP, a related bitter chemical — indicates you’re a supertaster.

When researchers study taste sensitivity, they prepare glasses of water with increasing concentrations of PROP. By starting with plain water and progressing to denser solutions, they determine the threshold at which you become sensitive to the bitter taste. For a simple yes/no answer to the question “Am I a supertaster?” you can simply taste a piece of paper impregnated with a strong concentration of PROP. If you notice nothing but paper, you’re a nontaster. If you’re a supertaster, you’ll want to spit it out. Medium tasters can detect the bitterness, but don’t find it revolting.

You can purchase test strips online from the Supertaster Test website. They come in packages of two, cost $4.95, and the shipping and handling was only an extra $2 for California. They ship internationally and come with a money-back guarantee. The site claims the taste test is “an indispensible tool for the health-conscious food lover.”
Read more

Share

Are you a supertaster: Look at your tongue

Got Taste?

Your taste buds are located in small bumps on the tongue called papillae. Supertasters have more of these bumps per square centimeter of tongue than nontasters, as much as 10 times as many. So the simplest, do-it-yourself way to detect your supertaster status is to look at the papillae on your tongue.

You can make your individual taste bumps visible – and countable – by applying blue food coloring. You may be someone who avoids artificial coloring, so I’ve looked into the safety issues.

Currently there are seven artificial colors allowed in foods. The blue ones are FD&C Blue No. 1 and No. 2. Food colorings got a bad name when FD&C Red No. 2 was found to be carcinogenic. It was banned in 1976. The currently legal colors are probably not harmful, although they may “aggravate” ADD and ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

Blue stained tongue

Image source: Physiology of Taste

When you apply blue food coloring to your tongue, what you’re looking for is the areas that do NOT turn blue. The pink, round dots are the papillae. The pink dots on the tongue above are spaced fairly far apart, which makes them easy to count. This could be the tongue of a mildly sensitive taster, but definitely not a supertaster.
Read more

Share

Are you a supertaster: Do you really want to know?

Got Taste?

Food and wine critics tend to be curious about their tasting ability and may even boast of their sensitive palates. Being a supertaster is not necessarily a reason to feel superior, however. For a wine connoisseur it’s probably a disadvantage. In an excellent series of articles on Slate, Mike Steinberger quotes a professor of oenology (the science of wine):

I would speculate that supertasters probably enjoy wine less than the rest of us. They experience astringency, acidity, bitterness, and heat (from alcohol) more intensely, and this combination may make wine–or some wine styles–relatively unappealing.

Simple curiosity is reason enough to investigate your supertaster status. Experiments involving taste also make great science lessons for kids. But one good reason to determine your taste sensitivity is that it can increase your tolerance for those who are different. We tend to assume other people experience the world in the same way we do. As with most unconscious assumptions, we may need a little wake-up call before we recognize the truth.
Read more

Share

The genetics of supertasting

Got Taste?

After almost 80 years of study, the genetics of taste sensitivity is still not completely understood. Just when one theory seems to account for all the facts, an exception to the rule pops up. Studying human beings may be a science, but it’s not always an exact one.

Most supertasters have a gene that appears to control their sensitivity to bitter tastes. I say “appears” because other genes also influence sensitivity to bitterness. So far geneticists have discovered 35 bitter receptor genes. According to a company that offers to test your genes, up to 20% of the variation in bitter taste sensitivity may be due to these other genes. A more academic source puts that number as high as 50%. Geneticists debate whether sensitivity to bitterness is even related to overall taste sensitivity. Experimental psychologists like Linda Bartoshuk continue to study supertasters, but many geneticists no longer use the term.

One question that interests both geneticists and those who study evolution is this: Why have nontasters survived? In the days before supermarkets, nontasters presumably couldn’t tell if what they were about to eat would be deadly. Over millions of years you’d expect natural selection to favor the dominant gene for bitter taste sensitivity. But roughly 25 percent of the population have two recessive genes for this trait and are classified as nontasters. Interestingly enough, it turns out that 25 percent of chimpanzees are also nontasters.
Read more

Share

What is a supertaster?

Got Taste?

Remember when George H. W. Bush said he didn’t like broccoli? “I do not like broccoli and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.” Supertasters react strongly to bitter tastes: Broccoli, brussel sprouts, grapefruit juice, and unsweetened coffee. Not liking broccoli suggests Bush might be a supertaster, although by itself it’s not a definitive test.

It turns out some people are especially sensitive to certain bitter tastes. Dr. A. L. Fox, a scientist in a DuPont chemistry lab, discovered this by accident in 1931. He was working with the chemical PTC (phenylthiocarbamide) when he accidentally released a fine crystalline cloud of the powder into the air.

When another scientist in the lab, who was standing some distance away, complained about the bitter taste, Dr. Fox noticed that he didn’t taste anything. Fox took PTC to the 1931 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and, among the 2,500 attendees he tested, 28% couldn’t taste it. Sensitivity to the bitter taste of PTC turned out to be a genetically inherited trait, like eye color and blood type.
Read more

Share

Orange juice and toothpaste

Got Taste?
Tooth brushing</div/>
<div id=

Image source: Please, brush your teeth (This site has an extensive collection of tooth brushing photos.)

Ever wonder why orange juice tastes awful right after you brush your teeth? The short answer is there’s something in toothpaste – sodium laurel sulfate – that interferes with your taste buds, especially the taste of sweetness. This heightens your sensitivity to sour and bitter tastes.

That’s the executive summary. Here’s a slightly longer explanation.

What’s in your toothpaste?

Probably more than you think. Toothpaste contains flourides, abrasives, detergents, thickeners, and water softeners. It also has sweeteners to hide the bad taste of all that other stuff. The ingredient that makes orange juice taste bad is a foaming detergent that cleans your teeth. As a detergent it helps dissolve food particles. The foaming action distributes the toothpaste in your mouth and carries away what the abrasives and detergents loosen up.
Read more

Share

How do you taste?

Got Taste?
Beatles Russian nesting dolls</div/>
<div id=

Beatles Russian nesting dolls from Russian Legacy

The reason animals, including humans, have a sense of taste is so we’ll know what’s good to eat and what’s not. But exactly how does taste happen? We experience taste as happening on the tongue, and advertisers often appeal to our “taste buds.” But is there really such a thing as a taste bud?

You can think of taste as a nested set of structures, a little like a collection of Russian nested dolls. In the Yellow Submarine dolls pictured here, John contains Paul contains George contains Ringo contains Yoko (Is that Yoko?). With taste, the tongue contains papillae, which contain taste buds, which contain taste cells, which contain taste receptors.
Read more

Share

A matter of taste

Got Taste?
Decorated Tongue

Tongue Tattoo from thescene

Try this simple test. Ideally you’ll need a fruit-flavored jelly bean, but you can also use hard candy, a cough drop, or a piece of Mentos “freshly picked” gum. It should be chewable and relatively odorless. You won’t need to swallow it, so you can do this even if you’re counting calories.

Hold your nose and put the jelly bean or equivalent in your mouth. Keep your nose closed and chew (with your mouth closed). Notice what you taste. If it’s fruit flavored, you probably notice a sweet and maybe a little sour taste. Now pay close attention as you let go of your nose. There’s a rush of flavor. If you were eating a strawberry jelly bean, you’d notice the complex fruit flavor that we identify as strawberry.

How we taste food: Flavor is more than taste

Technically, taste is what happens on your tongue. Flavor, on the other hand, is a combination of taste, smell, and touch. Our sense of smell allows us to distinguish thousands of different odors, whereas the tongue detects only five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory (umami).

Smell Taste/>
</div>
<div id=

Taste and Smell from AllPosters.com

When you eat a jelly bean, odors are released by chewing. These gaseous molecules get pumped up into your nasal cavity, where they interact with a postage-stamp sized area on the roof of the nasal cavity called the olfactory (smell) epithelium. There are millions of olfactory receptor cells here with microscopic hairs (cilia) waving in the passing air currents. Information from the receptor cells is sent to the olfactory bulb, which is part of the brain. From there, signals get relayed to other parts of the brain, including those involved in memory, speech, emotion, and decision making. There’s a very complex process going on whenever you identify a distinct odor or flavor.
Read more

Share

Coughing Up Blood Money: The Altria Earnings Protection Act?

cough-cough

nicotine-not-addictive-1994

As I mentioned a few posts back, Altria, the sanitized name for Philip Morris, is the major player in the U.S. tobacco industry. The company spent $12.9 million on lobbying in 2006. And yet they fully support the upcoming bill that gives the FDA control over tobacco, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. All the other big tobacco companies – Reynolds American, Lorillard — oppose the legislation. Why is Altria so supportive?

According to Eoin Gleeson, writing in MoneyWeek:

[B]ecause the firm has read the small print. “This legislation might as well be dubbed the Altria Earnings Protection Act,” says Fortune magazine. For starters, the bill prevents the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from ever banning cigarettes. But just as importantly, the wording makes it extremely unlikely that the FDA will ever approve a new cigarette product because the entrant would have to be deemed “appropriate for the protection of the public health”. So the bill basically featherbeds the dominant tobacco groups’ [Altria’s] share of the market.

Read more

Share