Black coffee, broccoli beef or even just a roasted tomato – different kinds of food evoke different reactions in people. Why does something one person finds delicious, taste awful for someone else?
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we decode what determines if a dish is ‘tasty’.
The answer is in the tongue. According to a March 2012 report in the US-based science magazine Popular Science, some people have a lot more fungiform papillae on their tongue than others. These small, mushroom-shaped bumps on the tongue house our taste receptors, which bind to the molecules in food and tell our brain what we’re eating. Each receptor is adept at sensing a single flavour, whether it’s sweet, salty, bitter, sour or savoury (umami). Altogether, it’s what determines the unique ‘taste’ of each morsel of food we eat.
But we don’t all have the same number of taste buds. Those who have a lot of papillae tend to find flavours overwhelming. It’s why these people are known as supertasters. You’d recognise a supertaster by their strong likes and dislikes for different foods. According to a March 2012 report in US-based science magazine Scientific American, supertasters often find food like cabbage, spinach, coffee and broccoli to be very bitter. They never have coffee black, and prefer their food to be mild.
If you’re not a supertaster, you’re likely an average taster. But you could also be on the other end of the spectrum: a sub-taster or non-taster. Such people have fewer taste buds and a lower papillae density, so most food tastes bland and unexciting to them. They likely always carry a bottle of hot sauce in their bag, like their chicken wings ‘atomic’, and are constantly looking for ways to spice up their food.
There’s actually a pretty easy way to tell if you’re a supertaster or not. To find out, put some blue food colouring on your tongue! Since blue dye doesn’t stick to papillae, if your tongue doesn’t turn very blue, it means you’re probably a supertaster. The bluer it gets, the better the chance that you’re a sub-taster. Bring on the hot sauce!