Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Do You Have More Tastebuds Than Me?

Are you or do you know a "supertaster"???  These are people that have a lot more tastebuds on their tongues than the rest of us.  About 25% of the population is characterized as being a "supertaster" and these folks are more likely to be SHEs and those of Asian or African descent. 

How do you know if you are a supertaster?  You could actually buy a kit and screen yourself.  They send you a chemical to put on your tongue and if it taste super awful, then you're a supertaster. 

Or, do you find the following foods/drinks to be bitter and icky?  brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, coffee, green tea, spinach, soy products, grapefruit juice, and carbonated beverages

If yes, you are probably a supertaster.  

Who cares, right?  Well....the food industry cares.  They want all of us, including supertasters and nontasters (about 25% of the population) to like and buy their food.  And in general, we like their food salty.  About 75% of the salt we eat comes from processed food products.

But health experts don't like all of the salt in processed food and want the food industry to lower the salt content (it is way out of control these days...some people are eating twice as much sodium as recommended).  

Herein lies the problem...there is no easy substitute for salt in processed food products.  It's not like fat or sugar where there are artificial versions or healthier versions.  Salt is salt.  And in food products, it not only makes food taste good, but it keeps foods safer by reducing the growth of certain bacteria and extends the shelf-life of the food.  

Plus, it turns out that salt serves a very important role in keeping supertasters happy.  Salt masks the bitter tastes that are naturally present in some foods (e.g., cheese) so that supertasters don't find them icky.  If the food industry lowers the salt too much, there's going to be 25% of the population that immediately will be a little put out.  (Just a side note...sugar also masks bitter flavors, which is why so many people use it in coffee...a very, very bitter drink...gotta love food chemistry!)

So what to do???  Well obviously, there's a need for new technologies that allow for salt reduction without compromising taste.  And of course, this may seem unconventional, but lowering the amount of processed food that is consumed on a daily basis seems like an obvious solution to reducing salt intake...without alienating the supertasters out there.  Now if only I can get the food industry on board with my plan!    

1 comment:

  1. That tongue is disgusting. That's why I tell my patients "brush your tongue". Surprising that you can taste anything with that.