Taste – Are You A “Super-Taster” Or A “Non-Taster”?


Taste, designed in part to help us reject harmful foods, has long served as the body’s primary defense against poison.  As befits its role, the system is lighting fast.  The body can detect taste in as little as .0015 seconds, compared with .0024 seconds for touch and .013 seconds for vision.

TasteTo be tasted, food molecules must fall into a cluster of cells called a taste bud, more than 10,000 of which are spread over the tongue, palate, and inner cheek.  The taste bud sends a signal to the brain, which then determines everything from whether a food tastes “safe” –  In most cases this means it’s not too bitter – to whether we enjoy it.  In a part of the brain known as the anterior cingulate, tastes get married to an emotional reaction: disgust for rotten meat, say, or delight for a sweet strawberry.  But while some tastes are innate – nearly all humans are born with a sweet tooth.  It’s also been said that taste can be nurtured and develop more sophisticated over time.  Studies have shown that babies prefer foods they first “tasted” in the womb, or while nursing.  (Traces of certain flavors, including garlic and vanilla, turn up in amniotic fluid, and also in breast milk.)

More recently, food scientists have found ways to manipulate our likes and dislikes.  One chemical, extracted from a West African fruit, binds to taste receptors in a way that makes even the sourest lemon taste as sweet as lemon pie.  Food scientists have jumped on the discovery, scrambling to devise additives that would trick our taste buds into perceiving sweetness in the absence of actual sugar.


4 Things You Didn’t Know About Taste


  1. The taste map you learned growing up (the one that showed the tip of the tongue registering sweet flavors’; the back, bitter; and the sides, salty and sour) is a myth.  While receptors for the five basic tastes do exist they’re not confined to specific areas but are distributed across the tongue.
  2. French nutritionist Philippe Besnard recently discovered taste buds that seem to respond specifically to the flavor of fat.
  3. It’s believed that roughly 1/4 of all Americans are “super-tasters,” and another quarter are “non-tasters.”  Super-tasters have more taste buds and are often sensitive to bitter foods.  Non-tasters have fewer taste buds and tend to have a high tolerance for spicy foods.
  4. Your taste buds die off and regenerate every few days.  As you age, the cycle slows, dulling your ability to taste- which explains why older people tend to like their foods saltier and spicier.


Tell us what you thought below about “Taste”,  part 3 of our 6 part “Senses Series.”  Stay tuned for “Touch” & “Smell” plus a list of ways to sharpen your senses.

Lynne is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and Therapeutic Massage and Ethics Educator with extensive study in preventative nutrition and physiology. For over 35 years, Lynne has helped thousands of people through consulting, seminars and writing.

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