A newborn infant gets to drink or eat nothing other than breast milk for the first six months of life after which his/her life is open to food choices that become more and more diversified as the little one grows up. Right around the sixth month, these infants are fed on a variety of foods including porridge, mashed vegetables and fruits-the choice of these infants help us determine their preferences and choices regarding taste and various foods right from this stage of life. Aren’t these kids delighted to swallow down a spoonful of gripe water that tastes sweet and annoyed (showing 100 different expressions simultaneously) when they are fed a spoonful of mashed broccoli? Without any experience or nurture these kids have evolved to avoid bitter food right from the start of their life! Science tells us that an aversion to bitter food is an inborn quality residing within every individual which is a key feature for survival-it helps us avoid toxic plants and foods that are not edible. Also, breast milk contains lactose, a sugar and that’s probably why children are more inclined towards choosing sugary and sweet foods comparatively. Moreover, we have only one or two receptors for sweet but more than a dozen of them to identify bitterness. All vertebrates including humans have taste receptors-it’s only the placement and number of receptors that vary between them. For instance, the number of taste receptors on the whiskers of a catfish is tremendous-almost 1000 times more than that present in humans while whales and dolphins that swallow foods as a whole have almost no taste receptors.
It isn’t a rarity to find different kinds of people as given below:
Which Kind of Taster are You?
Basically, there are five different tastes including sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (meaty dish).
There are always two sides of a coin-on one side are the sweet lovers and on the other side are those who don’t really care about sweets. Maybe, when someone does not care about sugary foods, he/she can be called a supertaster-a person who has inherited more taste buds than the average person and hence tastes flavors more intensely. They have more papillae (bumps on the tongue that house the taste buds), taste buds, stronger likes and dislikes towards foods and foods usually have a stronger flavor when tasted by these people. That’s the reason why some people are extremely choosy and pickier about their food choices. Broccoli is slightly bitter and grapefruit is indeed not so sweet but for a supertaster both of them have an extremely bitter taste. Supertasters prefer mild food over spicy food and avoid strong desserts as much as possible. This might also be a reason why a supertaster is slim compared to other people!
Non-tasters are those who have low papillae density (https://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-03/fyi-why-does-some-food-taste-bad-some-people-and-good-others/), love to attack hot spicy foods and generally require more seasoning and garnishing to make the food tastier and attractive. Average tasters come in between supertasters and non-tasters and these are the group of people who like most foods. They don’t cringe at the sight of bitter food nor do they load their plate with oodles of seasoning to bring in flavor to some bland dish. The terms supertasters and non-tasters are attributed to Linda Bartoshuk who used a well-known bitter tasting chemical called 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) to segregate people into these different categories. She found that almost 25% people were extremely sensitive to the chemical while another 25% were totally unaware of it. Such sensitivity causes supertasters to avoid many different vegetables because of the bitter taste. While this might sound less nutritive those with the lowest PROP threshold are said to be the thinnest and those with the highest threshold are said to be the heaviest. Supertasters avoid sweet and high-fat foods and also have a lower BMI while non-tasters clearly choose to eat high-fat and sweet foods.
All of our brains recognize the same five tastes but it’s the variation in the chemicals that trigger different signals that varies from person to person. You might have a sweet tooth, a passion for spicy foods or wiling to eat anything in between. Find out to which category you belong!
The Genetics of Taste: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-genetics-of-taste-88797110/
Beyond Taste Buds: The Science of Delicious: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2015/12/food-science-of-taste/#close
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