Supertasters & Wine
Being a supertaster - superpower or a curse?
It is estimated that approximately 25% of the population are 'supertasters' which may sound like they possess a special power that could be quite useful when it comes to appreciating wine. Is it of benefit and what makes us supertasters or not?
First, how to test whether you are a supertaster, taster or a non-taster
SPOILER ALERT - don't read beyond this paragraph yet if you wish to take our suggested supertaster test currently on the BBC website as the rest of this blog might influence your answers, even subconsciously. It is more of a fun test and not scientific but it should give you some clues to your tasting abilities. There are also a couple of more scientific tests mentioned further below.
Whether you now know or not which type of taster you are the key is that it is all linked to the number of taste receptors or papillae on the tongue.
Supertasters have more papillae than the 50% of the population considered tasters (sometimes referred to as medium tasters or average tasters) and significantly more than the remaining 25%, so-called non-tasters.
You may want to conduct one of the more scientific tests.
One involves putting on the tongue a strip of paper coated in the chemical PROP or PTC (6-n-propylthiouracil and phenylthiocarbamide to give them their full names) and seeing how bitter you find it. I have done this test in a large group of people and it was interesting to see the three very marked reactions of the individuals in the group and the results were pretty much split 25% / 50% / 25% as per the estimated population split.
Supertasters immediately notice a vile bitter taste from the chemical. Those that can taste but tolerate the bitterness are considered tasters and the non-tasters don't notice any bitterness or may detect it but really don't mind it at all.
FYI, women are more likely than men to be supertasters. And Asia, Africa and South America all have a higher proportion of supertasters than Caucasians.
The other scientific test involves painting the tongue with dye and counting the number of papillae in a marked area - see http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/0/22941835 from Dara O'Briain's Science Club for details. The first test is probably easier - PTC and PROP test strips are available to buy on the internet.
Do supertasters have a better palate? Is it a superpower?
Due to the much higher number of taste receptors that they have, supertasters are more sensitive to all tastes including sweet, sour, bitter, salty, spicy and umami, finding them more intense than other people. It is generally thought that they are even more sensitive to bitterness than to the other 4 tastes but this may vary per supertaster.
Whether this makes them better tasters though is a matter for debate. Having a more sensitive sense of taste has its advantages and disadvantages.
Supertasters & their tastes
It is said that because supertasters find many green vegetables like broccoli, green peppers, kale and sprouts bitter they may have a higher risk of ill-health. In addition they may use more salt to try to hide the bitterness in foods. On the other hand though they probably eat fewer sugary and fatty foods and are very unlikely to smoke. And apparently some supertasters don't like wine - imagine that!
Supertasters can often be called picky eaters because they dislike many foods. It could just be that they find strong flavours too intense and are more aware of milder flavours than most other people. They may also be more aware of food or wine that is even slightly off.
Not surprisingly supertasters who do drink wine are more likely to prefer lighter, more delicate wines with low tannins such as Pinot Noir. They might find crisp, light wines such as Sauvignon Blanc a little too astringent.
Non-tasters & their tastes
Non-tasters like strong flavours and therefore hot, spicy foods - these are the people that will add extra-hot chilli sauce to dishes that others already find hot. They may also crave sweeter and fatty foods. It seems therefore that non-tasters may have risks to their health too; in addition to sweeter, fattier foods they are more likely to drink strong alcohol and to smoke. In general they will drink their coffee black.
In terms of wine non-tasters tend to like strong-flavoured, savoury wine that is fuller-bodied and higher in alcohol. They don't mind astringency or tannins. Bigger wines such as aged Chardonnays, Semillon and Cabernet Sauvignons would be more to their taste.
Medium tasters & their tastes
Tasters tend to like most foods. They do not find strong-flavoured food too intense, too bitter or sweet and so they are much more open to trying different kinds of food. In their wine consumption they are likely to be more adventurous too and like most wines.
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So perhaps super is not so super after all. It would seem that for once it pays to be average.
© Wines With Attitude Limited, www.wineswithattitude.co.uk
Lindsay Cornelissen DipWSET
is passionate about good quality wine and set up her online wine business, Wines With Attitude, to share that passion with other wine lovers.