Thursday, December 23, 2010

Supertasting leaves bitter taste behind

Do you remember that little genetic test you did in freshman biology? The one where you put the little piece of paper that had been dipped in a chemical in your mouth and if you could taste it you had the recessive gene, but if you couldn't, you didn't? Yeah, that one. I was the only one in class that could taste the chemical on the paper and I'll tell you what: it was a mouthful of mind-numbing, bitter nast.

Turns out what this actually tests is whether or not you're a supertaster. The chemical on the paper is 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP), and while most folks (medium tasters) apparently find PROP tolerably bitter (even pleasantly bitter?), for supertasters it’s almost unpalatable. So if you're a hophead, you are definitely not a supertaster. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

With taste bud densities of ten to 100 times greater than the general population, supertasters experience a heightened sensitivity to all flavors- especially salt, sweet, bitter and spice. While this means that we can better experience some of the more nuanced flavors in food and beverages, it also means that we tend to steer away from extreme flavors, such as hoppy beers and spicy foods.

There are some health benefits to being a supertaster- we generally avoid very sweet, salty and fatty foods, which leads to lower incidences of cardiovascular disease and obesity. However, we also tend to avoid vegetables containing cancer-fighting flavanoids, such as spinach, cabbage, kale and broccoli (vile weed!). Other problem foods include hoppy beers, liquor, coffee, tea, peppers and olives.

As a new writer to MRB, I wanted to post about supertasting so that you all know what perspective I’m coming from when writing reviews. In general, I tend towards the malty end of the spectrum, though I’m working on developing at least an appreciation for the hoppy beers, if not a love for them. Don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but I’m trying. In the meantime, I might leave the hoppy beer reviews to Jeff since mine will inevitably be summarized by “yech.”

Side note: an FYI for all you hopheads out there- bitterness is generally nature’s warning for toxins and poison. From an evolutionary perspective, bitter equals bad. So if you ever find yourself stranded in the woods somewhere Bear Grylls style, don’t succumb to your bitter-loving taste buds- you’ll likely regret it.

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