Who are the supertasters and why is food so bitter to them

Have you ever guessed what is the secret behind the science of taste and flavour? Do you know if you are a supertaster?

Supertaster is not the name of a new superhero and for sure –or maybe not– it will not be featured in the next Marvel movie but you should know that the supertasters are hiding among us, you might be one as well.

The term “supertaster” has been initially used by Linda Bartoshuk -a Professor of Community Dentistry and Behavioral Science at the University of Florida – who in 1991 used a noticeably bitter chemical (6-n-propylthiouracil) in order to classify the population according to their ability to taste such compounds. She divided consumers into three groups:

  • Non-tasters (25% of the population);
  • Tasters (50% of the population);
  • Supertasters (25% of the population)

The supertaster has a particular sensitivity to react negatively to a narrow group of compounds and seem to have a greater than normal number of taste-bud papillae on their tongue hence they can experience flavour with higher intensity than non-tasters and tasters. They not only perceive bitterness at a higher rate but also sweetness and creaminess of fatty foods.

Supertasters can’t stand bitterness and they tend to avoid dark chocolate, chilly pepper, black coffee, broccoli and Brussel sprouts and sometimes also alcohol.

What researchers think is that the super-sensitivity to bitter tastes may serve as an evolutionary purpose to protect people from potentially harmful substances but this also applies to the tasters.

Bitterness, in fact, has also nutritional implications since it is generally thought to protect us from toxins which are most of the times also associated with bitter tastes.

In consumer behaviour sciences, researchers are focusing on the supertaster profiles and their behaviour related to food preference.

Latour and co-workers have published a recent paper in the Journal of Advertising Research and highlighted how supertasters are not only more sensitive to bitterness but seek sweet food and present higher loyalty to products and brands that other consumers. An interesting way to attract the supertaster segment by the use of advertising is to use language that highlights the mellowness of the product’s taste.

References:

Bartoshuk L.M. (1991). Sweetness. History, Preference and Genetic Variability. Food Technology. 45, 11:108 – 113.

Latour K.A., Latour M.S., Wansink B. (2018). The impact of Supertaster on Taste Test and Marketing Outcomes. How Innate Characteristics Shape Taste, Preference, Experience and Behaviour. Journal of Advertising Research. 58. JAR-2017. 10.2501/JAR-2017-030.

Prescott J. (2012). Taste Matters, Why we like the foods we do. Published by Reaktion Books Ltd, London (UK).

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