Did you know that there may is scientific rationale as to why some people are pickier eaters as compared to others? It's true! A chemical called propylthiouracil (also known as PROP) has helped researchers identify people who are more likely to turn their noses up to brussels sprouts as compared to others. We call these guys, Supertasters! And while that may sound like a superhero quality to possess, you may be surprised at the implications. In fact, people who are our pickiest eaters more typically are supertasters, which comprises approximately 25% of the population. Supertasters may have more visible and dense taste buds as compared to regular and nontasters. They are also more sensitivity to, or are more easily able to identify PROP in lab experiments. These people will taste more bitter flavors in foods, and while this characteristic may have been a protective in the past helping us avoid poisonous foods, we do have a lot of nutrient dense foods with bitter taste profiles – think cauliflower, cabbage and other vegetables. And we know increasing our vegetable intake reduces risk for developing colon cancer. To mask the bitter flavor, supertasters have also been known to salt their foods more. To a lesser extent, supertasters are also more avert to sweet, salty, and umami (savory or meaty) flavors. On the bright side, supertasters have been found to have a lower BMI as they typically dislike very sweet, high fat foods. We also see a decrease in preference for alcohol and cigarettes in the supertaster category.
Now, nontasters, because they have a reduced capacity to detect bitterness, tend to salt foods less as there is no need to mask a bitter flavor. On the other hand, nontasters do have a preference for higher fat, more sweet foods and are more prone to alcoholism.
In regards to PROP sensitivity (supertaster, regular, or nontaster), we know that our category is primarily determined by our genes. However, our sense of smell can also impact our perception of taste. Ever have a cold and have a difficult time tasting foods? This is why. Scent has a significant impact on our perceived taste, and there are far more detectable scents – approximately 10, 000 - as compared to the five commonly recognized flavor profiles. Smells are a learned experience, and are much more varied as compared to the simple taste flavor profiles of sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. So don't go blaming your mama as to why you despise kale - scientists believe that scent is responsible for 80-85% of our perception of a food’s flavor.
Now you know!