Tuesday, September 28, 2010
In Chapter 15 of our Sensation and Perception text we will discuss the structure of the taste system. The process of tasting begins with the tongue. The surface of the tongue contain ridges and valleys caused by structures called papillae. There are four types of papillae found on the tongue and all but one type contain taste buds. In most cases the whole tongue contains about 10,000 taste buds. But there are people who have way more than the average amount of taste buds. These individuals are referred to as SuperTasters. Supertasters experience taste with far greater intensity than the average person. About 25 percent of Americans are SuperTasters, a group with an unusually high number of taste buds. If you love food more than most, you may have inherited SuperTaster genes.Women are more likely to be SuperTasters, as are Asians and Africans.The cause of this heightened response is currently unknown, although it is thought to be, at least in part, due to an increased number of fungiform papillae. The evolutionary advantage to SuperTasting is unclear. In some environments, heightened taste response, particularly to bitterness, would represent an important advantage in avoiding potentially toxic plant alkaloids. However, in other environments, increased response to bitter may have limited the range of palatable foods. In a modern, energy-rich environment, SuperTasting may be cardioprotective, due to decreased liking and intake of fat, but may increase cancer risk via decreased vegetable intake. It may be a cause of picky eating, but picky eaters are not necessarily supertasters, and vice versa. Evidence suggests that SuperTasters are more sensitive to bitter tastes and fattiness in food, and often show lower acceptance of foods that are high in these taste qualities. Tasters tend to dislike strong, bitter foods like raw broccoli, grapefruit juice, coffee and dark chocolate.The term originates with experimental psychologist Linda Bartoshuk who has spent much of her career studying genetic variation in taste perception. In the early 1990s, Bartoshuk and her colleagues noticed some individuals tested in the laboratory seemed to have an elevated taste response and took to calling them SuperTasters. This increased taste response is not the result of response bias or a scaling artifact, but appears to have an anatomical/biological basis. There are ways to assess if you are a SuperTaster. Do you turn up you nose and refuse to eat broccoli, spinach or Brussels sprouts? It may be genetically programmed and beyond your control. You can also test yourself, researchers have developed a test involving filter paper impregnated with a taster chemical. SuperTasters will find the test unbearably bitter while NonTasters will experience nothing at all. I have enclosed a neat YouTube video for your enjoyment, I hope this peaks your interests like it did mine! Just click on the title to view it.