It has been determined that a person's ability to detect either of two distinct chemicals phenylthiocarbamide (PTC), and propylthiouracil (PROP) - makes that person a "Supertaster."

I remember taking the test in Junior High School but I couldn't remember my results.  It was science class and we were discussing genetics.  The ability to taste these are the result of having a specific gene.

According to the Wiki:

"The bitter taste receptor gene TAS2R38 has been associated with the ability to taste PROP, and PTC, however it cannot completely explain the supertasting phenomenon.  Most estimates suggest 25% of the population are nontasters, 50% are medium tasters, and 25% are supertasters."

In their Introduction to their book, Genetic Variation in Taste Sensitivity (by John Prescott and Beverly J. Tepper) they tell the story how DuPont chemist A. L. Fox was synthesizing some PTC and some of it flew into the air.  A colleague commented in its bitter taste, which Fox had not noticed.  So it began... research into how genetics effect taste.

It is now pretty clear that Supertasters perceive bitterness (not just PTC and PROP) as much more bitter than the rest of us.  Specifically in foods like broccoli, grapefruit juice, coffee, and dark chocolate.  Also, other non-bitter flavors seem more intense, like alcohol, hot peppers, and ginger (via the NY Times).

When I first heard of Supertasters, I immediately thought I could be one.  I can taste cilantro in what are probably microscopic quantities.  I can taste my wife's face lotion if she takes a sip of my coffee.  I can taste other people's conditioner in the water if they are surfing near me (I know, it's gross).

I had to know.


It didn't take long to find which is selling 2 Supertaster test strips for $4.95.  I ordered a pair.  They arrived within a few days in a little baggie (photo at top) and my wife and I put them on our tongues.  


They were bad, but not appalling.  From the description, I suppose we would be called "medium tasters."  Besides, I love coffee, dark chocolate, grapefruit, hot peppers, and ginger.  I would never make it as a Supertaster, I would be distraught.

More recent information; however, has revealed that being a Supertaster may not only take away the pleasure of many foods - but it might even be deleterious to your health.  It is theorized by a group at Yale Medical that because many of the foods that are aversive to Supertasters are nutrient-rich, they are not taking in as many cancer-fighting compounds.

Their research found a correlation between colon polyps and the ability to taste PROP.  The Abstract concludes with, "In the subset reporting vegetable intake, men who tasted PROP as more bitter consumed fewer vegetables. These preliminary findings suggest that taste genetics may influence colon cancer risk, possibly through intake of vegetables."

Life must be rough for a Supertaster, thank goodness I'm not one of them.

Authordavid koch