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Taste Test: Do You have the Papillae of a Supertaster?

Are you a picky eater? Maybe there is a scientific reason for your reluctance to eat certain foods even if you know they are good for you. If you are going to a casual family gathering this summer or have friends over, you might be able to have some tongue-dyeing taste-testing fun in the name of science!

Super taster science experiment
Above: With an easy and colorful science experiment, you can see if you are a super taster. Be sure to have a magnifying glass on hand!

Chartreuse pants and a flashy orange shirt? Your taste in clothing may say a lot about you and your personality. If you have a really quirky sense of style, you might even have heard the expression, "your taste is all in your mouth"! How about your taste in food? Will you eat anything, or do you gravitate toward certain kinds of foods and steer clear of others—even ones you know are good for you? Do you like things salty? Do you prefer sweet? Neither? What about sour? Do you like the taste of cinnamon? When you taste a cookie, can you isolate and identify lots of different ingredients? Or do you just taste "cookie"?

From the time kids first start eating solid foods, most parents try to introduce a wide range of healthy and colorful foods in addition to staples like oatmeal and rice. Despite the best airplane-in-the-air-coming-in-for-landing maneuvers, spooning pureed veggies to a toddler can be a very messy process, one involving a good bit of thrown and spat food. As kids grow, more and more veggies appear, as do a wide range of other foods, herbs, and spices.

Things may get less messy, but despite repeat attempts to make kids eat their veggies, some kids (and some adults) never do learn to stomach their broccoli. Some kids (and some adults) won't touch grapefruit. They may, in fact, always seem to be super picky compared to others who will seemingly eat just about anything. It may seem like they don't have "enough" taste, but the opposite may be the case. Picky eaters may, in fact, be picky because they have more rather than less sense of taste!

Tongue Science

The number of taste buds in the mouth varies from person to person. People with a larger number of taste buds are classified as supertasters. On the other end of the taste spectrum are non-tasters, and the rest of us average tasters fall in between.

Supertasters taste things with far more specificity and intensity than average tasters or non-tasters. They are especially sensitive to certain kinds of tastes like bitterness, and some foods, like broccoli and kale, are ones that supertasters can't stand. They don't just dislike green veggies, however. There are a wide range of foods, spices, and flavors that may trigger a supertaster's resistance, including things that are sweet or salty.

Scientifically speaking, a picky eater might, in fact, be a supertaster, and finding out is easy to do with a hands-on science project.

The Do You Love the Taste of Food? Find Out if You're a Supertaster! human biology science project outlines a simple experiment kids can do using food dye and office supply store paper reinforcement rings. Rather than just recording how things "taste," in this project, students quantifiably measure and compare people's taste buds. Color a ringed area of the tongue with a drop of food dye, and you can count the number of papillae in the area. Match that number up to a chart, and you can see where your taste sensitivity falls.

Maybe you are a supertaster! But what about the rest of your family? How do the numbers compare among age or gender groups? This is a fun science activity to do with friends and family. You will all end up with a colorful tongue spot for a while, too!

More Taste Buds Fun

You can continue taste-test science this summer with your friends and family with science projects and activities like these:

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Your Science!
What will you explore for your science project this year? What is your favorite classroom science activity? Email us a short (one to three sentences) summary of your science project or teaching tip. You might end up featured in an upcoming Science Buddies newsletter!

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