The Road to RDville: Supertasters

So what is this whole “supertaster” thing? Is it for real?
Alas, it is. The friend I referred to in Sunday’s Seattle Time column, Diana, is actually one of my fellow students in the Nutritional Sciences program at the University of Washington. We were waiting for our Nutrition and Metabolism class to start one day last term when she admitted she couldn’t stand broccoli or Brussels sprouts. I immediately said, “And they still allowed you in the program?”
Our Nutrition Education instructor is also a supertaster. She grew up being tortured by the boiled Brussels sprouts that were served up regularly in her household. (When I told Jeff about this, he said, “Boiling Brussels sprouts? Why would anyone do that?) Exactly. Flash forward to today, and our instructor loves Brussels sprouts…roasted. She’s also come to enjoy coffee and dry red wines–beverages that also carry the bitter flavors that are anathema to most supertasters.
Diana likes coffee and red wine, too…and last week she decided to buy a bag of broccoli and give it another go. I’m so proud of her! Not that it stopped me from snickering as I watched her take the official supertaster test. (I’ll make it up to her by mentioning her new blog, “Happy. Healthy. Tasty.” Check it out.)
Our supertaster Nutrition Ed instructor brought a vial of test strips with her to class. Here’s how it works: If you are not a supertaster, you put the paper strip on your tongue, and you wait, and you wait some more. Finally, you realize, “This just tastes like paper,” and you remove the strip.
If you are supertaster, you put the paper strip on your tongue, and you wait, and you wait some more. Finally, whatever is in the strip hits your super sensitive tastebuds and your face contorts like you have tasted the most disgusting thing ever. I’m told that drinking water afterwards does NOT help, even though it’s supposed to.
About 25 percent of the population are supertasters. The trait is genetic, and affects more women than men. (Another 25 percent are “non-tasters” with the rest being “medium tasters.”) Supertasters have way more tastebuds than the rest, making them sensitive to not just the bitter flavors in coffee, wine and certain veggies, but also to sweet, salty and fatty tastes.  
Being a supertaster does not mean a death sentence for broccoli and it’s cruciferous family members (cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc.). Cooking method helps. Boiling will only make things worse; roasting brings out a natural sweetness. Stirfrying with a sauce is another option.
I previously theorized that any kid would like broccoli if it’s roasted. Since then, my sister mentioned that her three young children love broccoli, but won’t eat roasted broccoli because they don’t like any black spots on their food! (Maybe slower roasting at a lower temperature would solve the problem?) My Nutrition Ed instructor, however, has said that her young children love roasted veggies. So, one size (aka cooking method) clearly does not fit all!
A side note: This whole broccoli/supertaster thing reminded me of my own childhood experience with broccoli. This was back in the day before you could go out and buy a bag of fresh broccoli florets. You bought the whole broccoli head, stalk and all. I liked the taste of broccoli, but hated the texture of the florets, so when my mom served it, she traded her stems for my florets. Everyone was happy. Just some food for thought.
And now, a gratuitous cat photo. Kitty looks like a supertaster, right?