Do you turn your nose up at black coffee? Can’t stand bitter foods like broccoli, spinach or green tea? If so, you might be a supertaster. Thanks to an extra bunch of taste buds on the tip of your tongue, these bitter flavors taste more strongly to you than they do to most people. It’s been said that, for a supertaster, experiencing flavor is like feeling objects with 50 fingers instead of five.
It’s been known for nearly a century that people differ in their perception of bitter tastes in foods. But not until relatively recently have scientists traced the origin to small genetic differences among people. There are variations in a taste gene that explains why about a quarter of us (the supertasters) are highly sensitive to bitter taste, while the rest of us either don’t respond much at all to bitter taste, or at least don’t find it particularly unpleasant.
No one knows why, but women are more likely to be supertasters than men. Most parents probably assume that their children are super-tasters, given that so many children have an aversion to vegetables. But with kids, there are other factors at work that lead them to turn up their noses at brussel sprouts.
If you’re a supertaster, it can be a challenge to enjoy the health benefits of foods like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, tea and soy. Foods like these are literally bitter pills to swallow. But there are a few tricks that do seem to work.
A bit of salt helps to block the bitter taste of foods, so a dash of soy sauce or a sprinkle of garlic salt on bitter spinach can work wonders. Rather than trying to choke down raw broccoli, cauliflower and other bitter vegetables, many find that steaming them lightly makes them more palatable. Softer, loose-leaf cabbage varieties, like bok choi and napa, are often milder in flavor than the full-bodied, round-headed types. Sometimes adding a little bit of fat helps, too. Stir-frying vegetables in a dash of flavorful olive or sesame oil, or adding avocado to a salad of deep green spinach, can take the edge off the taste.
On the plus side, many supertasters are sensitive not only to bitter tastes: they often also find sweet foods too sweet and very fatty foods unpalatable. As a result, they may eat less fat and sugar than most of us – and that could reduce their risk of obesity and heart disease.
Susan is the Sr. Director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife, where she is responsible for the development of nutrition education and training materials, and is one of the primary authors of the Herbalife-sponsored blog, www.discovergoodnutrition.com. She is a Registered Dietitian and holds two Board Certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and a Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management. Susan is also a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Susan graduated with distinction in biology from the University of Colorado, and received her master’s degree in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She then completed her dietetic internship at the University of Kansas. Susan has taught extensively and developed educational programs targeted to individuals, groups and industry in her areas of expertise, including health promotion, weight management and sports nutrition.
Prior to her role at Herbalife, she was the assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, and has held appointments as adjunct professor in nutrition at Pepperdine University and as lecturer in nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Susan was a consultant to the (then) Los Angeles Raiders for six seasons, and was a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times Health Section for two years. She is a co-author of 23 research papers, 14 book chapters, and was a co-author of two books for the public: “What Color is Your Diet?” and “The L.A. Shape Diet” by Dr. David Heber, published by Harper Collins in 2001 and 2004, respectively.