“Supertasters!” — a quarter of Americans are supertasters — are you?

Joseph R. Anticaglia MD
Medical Advisory Board

I imagine millennia ago there were supertasters who led others in foraging for food. They would identify which plants were safe to eat while avoiding others. They could taste danger while others were clueless.

As time went on, sweet and salty were generally safe to eat while bitter and sour were potentially poisonous. These supertasters needed a very small sampling to make the distinction between edible and harmful foods.

Supertasters are people with a heightened sense of taste, particularly to bitter taste. They react with distasteful facial expressions to the bitterness of certain foods and beverages such as kale, cauliflower, coffee or the quinine in tonic water.

According to a report by the NIH, twenty five percent of Americans are supertasters and another twenty five per cent are non-tasters. Half of Americans are average or medium tasters. Supertasters have many more taste buds on the tongue compared to the average person or non-tasters. Supertasters often find food flavorful that others find bland

A Few Fundamentals

Sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami are the five primary tastes. We have about ten thousand taste buds, those small bumps on the tongue. Between 50-150 taste cells cluster to form one taste bud and each bud has a lifespan of 10-12 days.

Saliva decomposes food into chemical components so that we can distinguish the five primary tastes. With the assistance of the sense of smell we get to appreciate different flavors. Taste bud receptors accept and relay the chemical information of food by means of its neural pathways to the brain for interpretation. This system informs us whether food or drink tastes fresh or rancid, good or bad…

“Are You A Supertaster?”

PTC and PROP are chemical compounds with a bitter taste reminiscent of the taste found in broccoli and kale. (A) These compounds evoke the sensation of bitterness in susceptible subjects when they are placed on the tongue.

A strip of paper with either PTC or PROP on it is placed on the tongue of an individual. The subject’s reaction is observed. Supertasters demonstrate a strong aversion to the bitter quality of PTC or PROP. This reaction is the result of an inherited genetic trait that is passed on to you by your parents.

Another method to evaluate if you are a supertaster utilizes blue food dye. Place the food dye on tip of the tongue, take a mouthful of water, swish it around and spit it out. The fungiform papillae (small rounded bumps on the tongue) will stain a light blue compared to the rest of the tongue which will be a darker blue. Next, one counts the number of fungiform papillae in a small, circular area on the tongue.
Non-tasters — have fewer than 15 papillae
Average tasters — Between 15-30 papillae
Supertasters — greater than 30 papillae (1)

Supertasters have been labeled picky eaters because they shun certain foods. Also, they have been called foodies because they hunt for new food experiences. The genetic make-up of individuals helps explain why bland food to non-tasters might be seasoned just right to supertasters Are you a Supertaster?


  1. Resteck, George; Super-Tasting Science; Scientific American; 2012
  2. NIH; Quick Statistics About Taste and Smell; June 7, 2010
  3. Bartoshut, Linda et al; PROP Supertasters and the Saltiness of NaCl; Annals of NY Acad. Of Sciences, Feb. 7, 2006
  4. Anticaglia, Joseph R; Taste & Smell — The Five Tastes; HC Smart , 2016

A) Glossary

PTC — Phenylthiocarbamide
PROP — 6-n Propythiouracil.

Papillae — small, rounded bumps on tongue that house our taste buds.
Fungiform papillae
Circumvallate papillae
Foliate papillae

Gustation — sense of taste
Ageusia — loss of the sense of taste
Hypogeusia — reduced ability to taste things.
Hypergeusia — heightened sense of taste (Supertasters)
Parageusia — distortion of the sense of taste

Foodies — have a keen interest in food and beverages
Supertasters — are individuals with more than about 30 papillae detected in a circle on the tongue with a diameter of 7mm.

This article is intended solely as a learning experience. Please consult your physician for diagnostic and treatment options.