Do You Love the Taste of Food? Find Out if You Are a Supertaster!
IntroductionHave you ever noticed that some people are a lot pickier about the food they eat than other people are? They might be more selective because they are supertasters! To supertasters, the flavors of foods are much stronger than to average tasters. Whether or not someone is a supertaster comes down to the taste buds on his or her tongue, and you can actually investigate a person's supertaster status by looking at this. Are you a supertaster? Find out with this tongue-based activity!
This activity is not appropriate for use as a science fair project. Good science fair projects have a stronger focus on controlling variables, taking accurate measurements, and analyzing data. To find a science fair project that is just right for you, browse our library of over 1,200 Science Fair Project Ideas or use the Topic Selection Wizard to get a personalized project recommendation.
Do you hate the taste of broccoli? Or think that grapefruit is extremely bitter? If so, you may be able to blame it on your taste buds! Taste buds, located on small bumps on the tongue called fungiform papillae, are each made up of about 50 to 150 taste receptor cells. On the surface of these cells are receptors that bind to small molecules related to flavor. Each receptor is best at sensing a single flavor: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, or umami. The sum total of these sensations is the "taste" of the food.
The number of taste buds varies from person to person. People who have relatively more taste buds are called supertasters. To supertasters, foods may have much stronger flavors, which often leads to supertasters having very strong likes and dislikes for different foods. Supertasters often report that foods like broccoli, cabbage, spinach, grapefruit and coffee taste very bitter. The opposite of supertasters are non-tasters. Non-tasters have very few taste buds and, to them, most food may seem bland and unexciting. The people in the middle are average tasters. Which kind of taster do you think you are? What about your friends and family?
Extra: Repeat this activity with at least 25 more volunteers, for a total of at least 30 people. What percentage of people in this larger group turns out to be supertasters? What percentage are non-tasters, having fewer than 15 papillae? What percentage has between 15 and 30 papillae, and are average tasters?
Extra: Try this activity again but this time use an equal number of male and female volunteers, with at least 15 of each. Do males and females have the same likelihood of being a supertaster?
Extra: Look into how different foods, like spinach and chili peppers, taste to the different types of tasters. Based on this, can you make a taste-test to figure out who is a supertaster? Check how accurate your taste-test is by also counting the papillae for each person.
Extra: You can use a person's body mass index (BMI, formulas for which can be found online) and their results from this activity to try to figure out if there is a correlation between people's weight and the type of taster they are (supertaster, non-taster, or average taster). Do you find a correlation? Are supertasters more likely to be underweight, average, or above weight?
Observations and Results
Did you find that people had different amounts of papillae, and that most people were not supertasters?
Typically when people do this activity if they have more than about 30 fungiform papillae they are considered a supertaster, if they have around 15 to 30 papillae they are an average taster, and if they have fewer than 15 papillae they are a non-taster. Although the percentages vary around the world and with different populations of people, around 25 to 30 percent of people are thought to be supertasters, 40 to 50 percent average tasters, and 25 to 30 percent non-tasters. (If you tested only five people, you may not have seen that around 1-2 people, or about 25 to 30 percent, were supertasters because of the small sample size. Additionally, if you only used genetically related family members this may have skewed the results as well since there is a genetic component to how many taste buds a person has.) Testing a person's sensitivity to a bitter chemical called 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) is a more definitive way to determine if he or she is a supertaster; non-tasters can't taste PROP, but supertasters can and really don't like its bitter taste! Average tasters can taste it too, but its bitter taste is not strong enough to bother them.
More to ExploreScience of Supertasters from BBC Science
Sensing Fat from Beverly J. Tepper and Kathleen L. Keller at The Scientist
What are Taste Buds? from KidsHealth
Do You Love the Taste of Food? Find Out if You're a Supertaster! from Science Buddies
Teisha Rowland, PhD, Science Buddies
Science Buddies |
Human biology, taste, taste buds
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