What’s that at the table? Is it a bird?
Is it a plane?
No, it’s a supertaster!
Supertasters are kids who may not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but they do have a very special ability: an enhanced sense of taste.
At mealtime, this power can transform an ordinary child into his or her alter ego, that of “Supertaster.” But just like x-ray vision, super-hearing, and super-strength, there are times when super-tasting can both help and hinder your hungry little hero.
In this article, I’ll explore what having a heightened sense of taste may mean for your child and how you can help.
Do You Have a Supertaster?
Kids are known to have more taste buds on the tongue than adults, and the supertaster is blessed with even more, making dinnertime a minefield of potentially unpleasant flavors.
The taste receptors, sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami (savory), are experienced with much more intensity.
It’s estimated that 25% of all people, most of whom are female, have this supertasting ability.
Be on the lookout, they may be disguised as extremely picky eaters.
Hardwired with Taste Preferences
We are predisposed for many taste preferences, some genetic and others a basic survival mechanism.
Babies are born with an innate preference for sweet. Sugar provides our brains and bodies with glucose for energy and fat stores help us get through times of famine.
Historically, our taste preferences and cravings helped us in the days of hunting and gathering, but can get out of hand in the modern world of convenience (and abundance). Table sugar, for example, has only been widely available for purchase within the last century.
Bitter Tastes are Especially Challenging
The taste experience is not the same for everyone, but strong likes and dislikes are a commonality in the supertaster.
Bitterness is especially intolerable for most, and essentially like kryptonite to your supertaster’s food preferences and eating behaviors.
Many of the beneficial compounds in fruits and vegetables are bitter; not eating these foods may put the supertaster at higher risk for nutrient deficiencies.
It is thought that this natural aversion is linked to the fact that many toxic substances also have a bitter taste.
Salt Preferences in Supertasters
The upside for many supertasters is that they crave less fatty and sugary foods. A little taste goes a long way, and less consumption may reduce the risk of heart disease for many.
Salt, on the other hand, is another story. It is known to mask bitterness, which is probably why supertasters have recently been shown to crave more than usual amounts.
Given the current recommendations for lowering sodium intake, this may be another pitfall.
The Battle Against Bitter
Kick up the flavor of bitter foods with salt, sweet, and even some healthy fats. Be creative, opportunistic, and persistent with food preparation.
It may take as many as 10-20 exposures (or more!) for your child to find a food acceptable.
Here are some simple ways to tempt your child’s taste buds when serving vegetables and fruit:
- Roast veggies to bring out their natural sweetness
- Add light cheese sauce, salted almonds, soy sauce, lemon, honey, or spices
- Serve veggies and/or fruit with low-fat ranch dressing or peanut butter
- Monopolize on “fun foods,” like ice cream, by adding not-so-sweet fruits
- One-dish meals, like casseroles, are a great way to introduce more veggies
- Add fruit and veggies to family favorites, like oatmeal and lasagna
- Pick naturally sweet varieties, like sweet potatoes and pineapple
Do you have a supertaster in the house? What works? Tell me in the comments below!
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: September 23, 2010
Updated on: May 10, 2019