Would you describe yourself as a picky eater? Does cilantro taste like soap to you? Does the word “disgusting” come to mind when you think about eating Brussels sprouts, spinach or kale? Do you shy away from spicy foods because they are painful to eat? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be a supertaster.
What Is a Supertaster?
A supertaster is a person who experiences the sense of taste with far greater intensity than the average person. They tend to be especially sensitive to bitter flavors like those found in foods like broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cilantro, grapefruit, coffee, beer and dark chocolate.
The surface of the human tongue is covered with taste buds (fungiform papillae) — tiny, mushroom-shaped bumps overlaid with taste receptors. Supertasters have a lot more taste buds than the majority of the population.
Tasting abilities are generally broken into three types based on the number of taste buds in a 6-millimeter round section of the tongue. That’s about the size of a pencil eraser or a standard hole punch.
|Number of Taste Buds||Tasting Type||% of Population|
More than 30
15 – 30
Less than 15
Scientists believe the differences in our ability to taste food are genetic. Most supertasters have the gene TAS2R38 which increases a person’s perception of bitterness.
In addition to being sensitive to bitter foods, supertasters generally don’t like hot spicy foods either. Why? Because the taste buds are surrounded by pain receptors. More taste buds means more pain receptors, which adds up to experiencing more intense pain when eating hot spicy foods.
How to Tell if You’re a Supertaster
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There are a number of methods you can use to find out if you’re a supertaster. Test strips or kits are available online and tend to be fairly inexpensive. There are also do-it-yourself options that involve counting your tastebuds. Instructions for several different methods of doing this can be found with an online search.
But for most of us, just comparing how our tastes line up with supertaster traits is sufficient.
You may be a supertaster if:
- You find dark green leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach and watercress to be very bitter.
- Cilantro tastes bitter or like soap to you.
- You avoid hot spicy foods because they are painful.
- Beverages like unsweetened coffee, unsweetened tea and beer are too bitter to drink.
- You consider yourself a picky eater.
Drawbacks of Being a Supertaster
While being a supertaster may just seem like a matter of personal taste, there are some distinct drawbacks you need to be aware of so you can look for alternative solutions. For example, leafy green vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet because they’re packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber. But since supertasters tend to avoid leafy greens, they are at greater risk for colon cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and many other diseases.
One technique some supertasters use is to add more salt or sugar to mask the bitterness of foods they find distasteful. Of course, those additions carry their own health risks. A better solution might be to add a few greens to a smoothie that contains other ingredients you like.
Another option is to use a greens supplement like ProHealth’s Ultimate Greens. It has a tropical fruit flavor and is a complete source of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fiber in a powder form that can be mixed into water, your favorite beverage, or a smoothie.
Although there can be some drawbacks, being a supertaster is not a bad thing. It just means you’ll need to put a little more thought into creative strategies to incorporate some of the healthy foods you don’t like into your diet in ways that are palatable to you.
Karen Lee Richards is ProHealth’s Editor-in-Chief. A fibromyalgia patient herself, she co-founded the nonprofit organization now known as the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) in 1997 and served as its vice-president for eight years. She was also the executive editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE magazine. After leaving the NFA, Karen served as the Guide to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the New York Times website About.com, then worked for eight years as the Chronic Pain Health Guide for The HealthCentral Network before coming to ProHealth. To learn more about Karen, see “Meet Karen Lee Richards.