02 June, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Supertaster

Ever have a friend who seems to have a stronger response to food and wine? That friend might be a supertaster. Supertasters are defined as those who experience taste with more intensity than others. Literally, they have more taste receptors (or buds) on their tongue. It is estimated that 25% of the population are supertaster, although that percentage increases among women, Asians, and African Americans.

In wine tasting, it has been wrongly believed that supertasters are better at picking out flavors in wine. In fact, number of taste receptors has little to do with the ability to pick out flavors and aromas in wine. Rather, the better wine tasters are those who have been trained and those with good memories. Check this out next time you're having a glass. Pay attention to the wine as it's in your mouth (hold it in a little longer too.) Are you having a hard time tasting the flavors or are you having a hard time identifying the flavors that you detect? If it's the latter, that's really all about memory and assigning words to those flavors.

There is a way to check if you're a supertaster, but it's messy. Using blue food coloring, swab the tip of your tongue. Your tongue will turn blue, but your taste buds stay pink. Take a piece of paper with a hole punched in it, about .5 inch in diameter. Place the paper on the front portion of your tongue and count how many buds are inside the hole. (Might help to have a magnifying glass for this.) The average person will have 15 to 35 taste buds, the supertaster will have more than 35. (Thanks to Jamie Goode's The Science of Wine for this handy test.)

Me? I'm going to just assume I'm average and forego a blue tongue.


  1. I am definitely learning this challenge first hand. As I train for my sommelier exams I am trying to develop a taste memory, but some of the flavors are challenging. Fun homework though!

    I had never heard of a supertaster, but it sure makes sense.


  2. That is cool. I think my kids would definitely like this test - especially since one is so sensitive he can tell when a vegetable was waved around his plate.