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MARTHA SEZ:The life of a Super Taster

February 28, 2011
Who was it that said “The more things change, the more they remain the same”?

For example. Have you heard about the Super Tasters who are currently in the news? Super Tasters have more taste buds than other people.

At the other end of the scale are the Non Tasters. These folks have few if any taste buds.

Half the adult population, according to the lore, are in the middle, neither Super nor Non.

Well, naturally, when I heard about this on a  talk show — I’m not sure where it originated — probably as scientific research at a major  university — I aspired to Super Taster status.

Non tasters, I figured, never had refined palates or else lost their sense of taste along the way, presumably by eating raw onions, swilling strong drink and smoking tobacco.

Any heightening of the senses is a special gift, right? An exquisitely nuanced sense of smell,

a refined palate ...

But the people dubbed Super Tasters are not French chefs or perfumiers. They’re the very same guests who have come to your house for dinner and carefully left all of their broccoli or curried shrimp on the sides of their plates. They are the people who don’t care for alcohol, coffee or even tea. They detect bitterness in many fruits and vegetables, where the rest of us discern nothing. They are able to taste fat better than other people, and they don’t care for it, thank you.  They cannot abide anything herby or spicy. They are like the princess in the tale of the princess and the pea: preternaturally, royally sensitive.

Far from being a Super Taster, I fall with a resounding thump into the Non Taster category, since I love spicy cuisine, espresso—anything to jolt-start the taste buds into life.

When you think of it, none of this is new information. I’d say we all start out as Super tasters. Children love simple foods. By the same token, they are disgusted by many of the foods they are encouraged to choke down. This is one of the reasons for the great natural alliance between children and dogs.

The relationship is symbiotic. Dogs are among the great Non Tasters of the animal kingdom. A child can easily palm his meat to a faithful dog concealed under the table and rest assured that the matter will be dealt with. A dog can generally be trusted to gulp a proffered tidbit without any show of finicky discrimination. A cat is not nearly so dependable.

Remember when Vanilla Wafers and animal crackers were among life’s true pleasures? I’ve lost the ability to appreciate them. Some people — the Super Tasters — retain their childhood tastes. Others go on to become hardened foodies.

While I can no longer savor the nuances in plain white rice or vanilla wafers or Wonder Bread or animal crackers or experience the pure, powerful pleasure I used to take in Nehi grape soda pop or lemon lollipops — they were so good! — I’ve acquired many tastes I never could have enjoyed had I not developed a jaded palate. Acquired tastes are those we relish most. Blue cheese, sharp cheddar, horse radish, hot sauce — the list goes on, and it’s making me hungry.

So even though the so-called Super tasters are in the news with their refined and discerning palates, they are not a new breed, but just the folks we have always referred to as picky eaters.

Maybe the important lesson to be learned from all of this is that they can’t help it. Adult Super Tasters actually deserve sympathy.

Throw yourself back in time to the days when you sat miserably at the table, expected to consume some food or drink so nauseating it would be the equivalent of chewing beetle grubs or swallowing stagnant pond water now. Aren’t you glad you no longer have to suffer that torment? What if you had never outgrown your negative food reactions?

Non Tasters and those in the middle are more like the dogs we discussed earlier in terms of their sensibilities, a relatively happy-go-lucky group, foodwise. I say we should keep all of this in mind when we find ourselves attempting to force-feed children or urge delicacies on reluctant dinner guests.  

Oh yes, and I take back what I said before about the bad habits of Non Tasters. That was before I realized I’m a Non Taster myself and that it’s probably just a result of the natural aging process.

Have a good week!


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