Nutrition Education Activity: Are You a Supertaster

 

In “There’s No Accounting for Taste! Or Is There?” in the September 2016 issue of School Nutrition, Contributing Editor Kelsey Casselbury takes a look at the science of taste. As the article explains, while we certainly all have our own preferences when it comes to the flavors of the food we eat, our proclivities are based more on biology than on pickiness.

Indeed, if you suspect that you experience the taste of foods more intensely than normal tasters, you might be right. You could be a “supertaster.” Twenty-five percent of people are supertasters, meaning that they have extra papillae, or taste buds, on their tongues and, therefore, more taste receptors. While the average person possesses anywhere around 15 to 35 papillae every 6 millimeters (that’s about the size of a hole punch), a supertaster possesses 35 to 60.

Interested in finding out if you’re a supertaster? With the help of a partner, you can conduct a simple science experiment that will provide the answer.

What You Need
  ✓  Paper hole reinforcers (one for each person)
  ✓  Water and soap
  ✓  Blue food coloring
  ✓  Glass of water (one for each person)
  ✓  Magnifying glass 
  ✓  Flashlight
  ✓  Paper and pencil 

  1. Both people need to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  2. Person A opens their mouth. Person B places a drop of blue food coloring on the tip of person A’s tongue, ensuring that the food coloring tube does not touch the volunteer’s tongue.
  3. Person A takes a mouthful of water, swishing it around in their mouth, and then spits it out. Then, person A attempts to make their tongue relatively dry by swallowing two to three times. The dye will stain all of the tongue blue with the exception of the fungiform papillae, where the taste buds are. The papillae will look like fairly large lighter blue or pink bumps, surrounded by dark blue.
  4. Person B places the paper hole reinforcer on the tip of Person A’s tongue, where it was dyed blue.
  5. Person B uses a magnifying glass under a bright light to count the number of papillae that appear within the hole. Don’t count the very tiny bumps, just the larger ones.
  6. Repeat by dyeing person B’s tongue while person A counts the papillae.

Results
If the number of papillae counted on a person’s tongue is above 25, they are officially considered a supertaster.

One Step Further
Have each person try a number of bold-tasting foods, such as lemon, honey, dark chocolate and chili peppers, to see how each person reacts differently to the taste.

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