As much as we’d like to think picky eating is reserved for the kiddos, there are plenty of adults in the picky-eaters club. Don’t we all have that friend who won’t try sushi or has countless modifications to give to the server when ordering dinner? So why is it that for some, this selectivity never goes away no matter how hard they try to swallow their pride (and peas!) and grow up? Stephanie Wilson, registered dietician nutritionist and founder of Blushing Wellness Co., says that it’s in part due to genetics. She explains to us why, contrary to popular belief, food preferences are about nature, not just nurture.
The population can be divided into three groups based on their ability to perceive different tastes: super-tasters, medium or regular tasters, and non-tasters. To discover where you fall on this spectrum, which is determined by your genes, you should take a PROP or PTC test. Simply set a strip of paper soaked in PROP, shorthand for the chemical 6-7i-propylthiouracil, or PTC, a similar chemical, on your tongue. If you taste a strong bitter flavor, you’re a super-taster; if you taste nothing, call yourself a non-taster. Regular tasters will experience a slight bitter flavor but won’t find it to be too repugnant.
Most people — about 50 percent — are medium tasters. But those in the super-tasters camp are typically the picky people. Super-tasters compose only a quarter of the population and generally have more visible and dense taste buds, Wilson, who is a super-taster herself, explains. (It’s okay to pull out your front-facing camera at this point and check.) The descriptor “super” is actually pretty apt here because, in a way, they have somewhat of a superhuman ability — and this “power” isn’t necessarily as negative as people like to make it seem.
Super-tasters are more sensitive to bitter tastes, which means they often dislike a variety of vegetables, such as cabbage and Brussels sprouts, and as a result, they salt their food more to mask the flavor. “While this characteristic may have been [for protection] in the past, helping us avoid poisonous foods, we do have a lot of nutrient-dense foods with bitter taste profiles,” Wilson says. But super-tasters also generally have lower BMIs (body mass index) because of their distaste for sweet and fatty foods, Wilson says. They also have more of an aversion to alcohol and cigarettes. Seems like a fair trade-off to us.
Non-tasters are, unsurprisingly, the opposite, with their own set of pros and cons. They don’t salt their food as much, Wilson states, but they also have more of an affinity for sweet and fatty foods and a heightened susceptibility to alcoholism.
However, Wilson recommends taking your PROP test results with a grain of salt (or maybe a little more than a just grain if you’re a super-taster) because it’s not the only indicator of your taste preferences. “Our sense of smell can also impact our perception of taste,” Wilson explains. “Ever have a cold and have a difficult time tasting foods? This is why.” As much of 85 percent of our perception of a food’s flavor is determined by smell. According to Wilson, there are more than 10,000 detectable smells compared to the five flavor profiles — umami, bitter, salty, sour, and sweet. And which of these 10,000 smells we prefer is learned, not inherited, like our taste buds’ sensitivity.
If you’re looking to please everyone at your dinner party, Wilson says umami, which she characterizes as meaty and savory, is a flavor that is generally liked by all tasters. A few foods that naturally possess umami flavor are meat, poultry, potatoes, some cheeses, and seafood. That’s not too surprising, though, because who doesn’t like steak and potatoes?
Are you a super-taster, regular taster, or non-taster? Let us know @BritandCo.
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