Being a supertaster is no joke

Many wine enthusiasts wish they could be supertasters. Should you?





Published June 3, 2021


I was checking my emails this week, reading newsletters headlines when I stopped and rolled my eyes at this title.

"Your ability to taste wine could be directly related to your ability to withstand the coronavirus."

What was it about? Another "wine and health" myth?

I clicked to read the article published by wine-searcher.com [1].

It continued like this.  

"If you are a supertaster, you might have some natural resistance to Covid-19, according to a new study released last week. But if your tasting abilities are below average, you might be extra vulnerable." 

What the heck? I probably used some french words to express my stupefaction. 

What's this obsession of wine folks to want to be knighted as supertasters?  Supertasting has seldom to do with superior wine tasting powers. 


Read this before aspiring to be a supertaster.


What psychophysicists meant when they first used the term supertaster


Dr. Linda Bartoshuk (Yale University, Florida State University) coined the term "Supertaster." She studied variations in taste sensitivities among human beings. 


What does it mean?

Being a supertaster means you're way more sensitive to two bitter compounds: 

  • phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) and a related molecule,
  • 6-n propyl-thiouracil (PROP) 

The expression of the TAS2R38 gene, coding for bitter taste, determines your response to PTC or PROP. You're either a non-taster, a taster, or a supertaster. 

The frequency of these groups varies among ethnic groups. 

  • Caucasians count roughly 25% supertasters (ST), 25% non tasters (NT), and 50% tasters (T). 
  • The population of non-tasters tends to be less represented in China and Japan.
  • NTs are more represented in India. 
  • Women tend to be more represented in the ST category than men. 


How to test if you're a supertaster?

You can find filter papers soaked in either a PTC or PROP solution to buy online. You place a paper strip on your tongue and wait a few seconds.

Tastes bad

If the taste is so bitter that you gag and want to spit all out (and you do), then you're a supertaster. I've seen people crying because the sensations were also painful. 

If after a few seconds you don't taste anything, then you're a non-taster.  If you find the taste bitter and ask what's the big deal, you're a taster. 


Tip: 

Have a sweet candy after this experiment to get rid of the bitterness. It may take a while to get rid of it if you're a supertaster.

Another method is to count the fungiform papillae on the surface of your tongue. STs have a higher density of papillae, which may explain they perceive more intense bitter sensations. 


How being a supertaster impacts your wine and food experience?

STs are more sensitive to bitterness, especially in green vegetables such as green mustard and bok choy. 

STs tend to be picky eaters. Indeed, supertasting abilities lead to intense responses to sensations in the mouth compared to normal tasting abilities. STs are more sensitive to other basic tastes (e.g., sweetness), the heat/burning of chili pepper, and the fatty mouthfeel of some liquids. They may be more reactive to irritation due to high alcoholic beverages and very tannic wines.

A frequent analogy describes STs as living in a world of neon colors, whereas NTs' reality is pastel.

What about aromatic perceptions? The debate is still out on whether STs also perceive retronasal aromas as more intense than non-tasters.


How does your taster status relate to your enjoyment of wine?

ST may stay away from high alcoholic wines or young, tannic, astringent reds. NT may go for sweeter or more alcoholic wines.

Yet, genetics isn't the only factor influencing wine preferences. Your education, cultural upbringing, and social environment will modulate the impact of your genetics. 


Does your taster status affect your wine tasting skills?

Does it affect your ability to improve your wine tasting abilities? Will you better detect wine aromas or slight aromatic differences between wines?

No, it doesn't based on current knowledge.

Training your nose is still the best way to become a more discerning wine taster. 


How being a supertaster impacts your health?

Many studies looked at relationships between people's taste status and diseases or addictions. Findings aren't conclusive. There might be relationships with bodyweight (NTs being heavier than STs) and alcoholism. Yet, no firm conclusions,

Let's go back to this article related to COVID-19 resistance. The findings are interesting, although not related to wine [2].

The research showed that STs seemed to have some innate immune resistance toward the COVID-19 virus. The article suggests that determining patients' PTC/PROP taster status can be another tool for doctors to use in their diagnosis. 

So there might be an advantage, after all, to be a supertaster, in these days and times.


CALL to ACTION:

Have you ever tested your "taster status"? Are you living in a neon or pastel world? Share your experience in a comment below. 


References 

1- Wine "Supertasters" and Covid Resistance, June 1st, 2021 

2- Barham HP, Taha MA, Broyles ST, Stevenson MM, Zito BA, Hall CA. Association Between Bitter Taste Receptor Phenotype and Clinical Outcomes Among Patients With COVID-19. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(5):e2111410. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.11410


Other resource used for this article:

Tepper BJ. Nutritional Implications of Genetic Taste Variation: The Role of PROP Sensitivity and Other Taste Phenotypes. Annu. Rev. Nutr. 2008. 28:14.1–14.22

Categories: Tasting education





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