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.”
You can also purchase strips impregnated with the original chemical, PTC. They’re much cheaper: 100 test strips for $3.00. I was a little surprised to find PTC strips, especially when the market seems to be children in science classes. PTC may be relatively harmless at low concentrations (these strips claim to have 3 to 5 micrograms per strip), but the Material Safety Data Sheet on PTC will give you pause.
Poison dart frogs come in a variety of colors. Image source: Gamespot
In my post on the toxicity of melamine, I made a table that shows how many milligrams of a substance are required to kill 50% of rats weighing 2.2 pounds. The measurement is called LD50 (Lethal Dose 50%). If a PTC taste-test strip has 5 micrograms (mcg) of PTC, that’s 0.005 milligrams (mg). So a PTC strip is safer than a poison dart frog, but deadlier than strychnine. And of course even children weigh more than 2.2 pounds. And you’re not supposed to swallow it. I’m not linking the website that sells these (as school supplies!) because I wouldn’t recommend it.
PROP is harmful too, but nowhere near as toxic as
PCP PTC. The lethal dose that will kill 50% of 2.2 pound rats is 1980 mg. That makes it safer than smoking marijuana, but deadlier than table salt. PROP is used to treat an overactive thyroid gland (Graves’ disease). Adults with this disorder take 150 to 200 mg a day. The amount of PROP on a taste-test strip is usually only 1.2 mg. According to taste expert Linda Bartoshuk, that’s not enough to be pharmacologically active. But you can see why they switched from PTC to PROP for taste testing. Here’s some safety data on PROP.
If you’d like to observe two people discovering their tasting status using test strips, you can watch “Doug and Marisa Take the Supertaster Test.” Doug and Marisa are food bloggers, and they used the strips sold by Supertaster Test. The video is a bit long for the amount of information conveyed (four and a half minutes), but Doug and Marisa do their best to be continuously engaging.
A matter of taste
How do you taste?
Orange juice and toothpaste
What is a supertaster?
The genetics of supertasting
Are you a supertaster: Do you really want to know?
Are you a supertaster: Look at your tongue
Are you a supertaster: DNA testing
Why do we love high-fat foods?
Do we taste fat?
The taste advantage
Grapefruit and the Pill
This is your brain on sugar — and sugar substitutes
The Pepsi challenge: How beliefs affect what you taste
Lawrence K. Altman, Researchers Finding New Ways to Learn About Graves’ Disease, The New York Times, July 23, 1991