All Taste Buds Are Not Created Equal
Are you a “super taster”?
I always knew food was a personal thing, but I had no idea how personal. For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could like a few of the fat-free products I’ve sampled over the years. But, lo and behold, I would see other shoppers with these products in their baskets. I asked one smiling shopper who was buying two packages of fat-free cheese whether she had tried it before. She said she liked it and many of the fat-free products available. That’s when I knew that all taste buds are not created equal.
Years ago, I organized a taste test of various fat-free and low-fat products with a diverse sampling of families. There were products that some of my tasters liked, while others threw them away with a vengeance. Some people noticed unappealing aftertastes (negative tastes that linger after the initial taste and flavors dissipate) in some products, while others didn’t. Why would some people be particularly sensitive to intense flavors, positive or negative?
It starts with the tongue.
While that’s true, our enjoyment of food relies on all of our senses, not just our sense of taste. Our sense of smell, for example, intensifies our tasting experience positively or negatively. The touch and texture of a food, as well as its appearance, also influence our eating enjoyment. But when it comes to our biggest impression of how a food tastes, it’s all about the tongue and its taste buds.
Scientists have recently found anatomical differences in people’s tongues that help explain why something may taste terribly bitter or sweet to one person and may not be tasted at all by another person. Some people actually have more taste buds per square inch of tongue. These people are officially called “super tasters” on the merits of their unique tongue topography, which includes very organized, tightly clustered bumps, or papillae (each house many taste buds), surrounded by a ring-type structure. In those who aren’t super-tasters, the bumps are more scattered and do not have rings. Bottom line, flavors taste stronger to super-tasters.