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July 24, 2010 - Kathie Evanoff
My husband hates broccoli.
He hates it to the point that even as I offered him a $20 bill in one hand and a small broccoli sprout in the other, he still wouldn’t take a bite. In fact, there are a lot of things he won’t eat, most of them in the vegetable food group and as he gets older, the list keeps getting longer.
When we were first married and I began to really learn his particular food habits, I thought he was spoiled. His parents never told him to clean his plate, nor did he ever sit in his chair for an entire evening, missing his favorite TV shows until he was able to get that last bite of peas down his throat. Unlike my house, where I once gagged down a spoonful of creamed, pearl onions to stay out of trouble, if he didn’t like it, he didn’t have to eat it. End of story.
But everyone knows as we get older, our taste buds mellow. Most of us will eat things we didn’t like as a child. As an adult, the only foods I still won’t eat are raisins and gummy-type candies (they’re sticky and yukky), but in my husband’s case, not much has changed.
By the time I went to college in the early 80s, I was already married and learned to deal with his particular – or at least to me – food preferences. And then an interesting biology class dealing with genetics caught my attention more than a biology class usually did. It was about supertasters, only in the 1980s they weren’t called that. They were called sauerkraut-lovers. My husband loves sauerkraut. He loves it to the point of making it in a huge crock in our basement. He loves it to the point of skimming aside the awful looking scum and digging deep into the center of the mixture to pull out a pinch to taste for doneness. He also has a fondness for pickles, preferably dill. I like sauerkraut too – and pickles – but I also can take or leave them.
My professor said the differences between sauerkraut lovers and the rest of us were due to genetics, just like those who can roll their tongues or flair their nostrils, both of which my husband can do but I can’t.
He passed around a small piece of paper on which he put a tiny drop of a chemical.
“Sauerkraut lovers will find the taste exceptionally bitter,” he said. “The rest won’t taste anything at all.”
Of the entire class, only one person ran for the door to find a water fountain after chewing the paper for a few seconds. I tasted nothing. I was too shy to ask for a chemical soaked piece of paper to bring home to my husband, but always wondered how he would react.
Since that class I’ve learned a couple things.
It is possible that my husband is a “supertaster.” This is a person who has more than the normal number of little bumps called papillae on their tongues. Papillae are the keepers of our taste buds, and supertasters are able to taste bitterness much more intensely than the rest of us “non-tasters.”
What was interesting is that according to a recent article on npr.org, supertasters also have a genetic craving for salt. My husband has always eaten every meal with his fork in one hand and the salt shaker in the other. When we go to cookouts or picnics, he whines if the host forgets to put salt on the table. He keeps restaurant packets of salt in his truck for those rare occasions the fast food joint he stops at forgets to put it in the bags.
But is he truly a supertaster? Could it be that he is genetically predisposed to hate bitter vegetables and crave salt and is not really the spoiled child who never grew out of his childhood food phase?
If I really wanted to find out, I could go to another website and for $4.95 I can purchase a small bit of the taster chemical propylthiouracil. There is another test as well, one we can do without buying chemicals over the Internet. This would be the blue-dye test. With a Q-tip, put a bit of blue food coloring on the tip of your tongue. The blue coloring makes the papillae easier to see. Then you can count the number of papillae inside a circle about the size of a pencil eraser. If it makes it any easier, you can use a piece of paper with a hole in it about that same size (like notebook paper holes) and count the papillae inside the hole. Non-tasters have about 15 papillae inside the hole. Supertasters will have more than 30.
I could order the chemical, or I could make my husband rinse his mouth with blue dye, but would it really make a difference? Knowing whether or not he is a true supertaster still wouldn’t make him eat that broccoli. Not even for a $20 bill.
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