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Super tasters: It isn’t easy eating green

Wednesday, January 3, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:42 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

As a child, bites of green bean casserole, brussels sprouts in cream and broccoli-rice souffle were dutifully swallowed, unmasticated in the hope of being untasted, with a large mouthful of milk. This was the practice of my brother and every other child I knew. It worked for nasty things like peas, liver, onions, cooked carrots and asparagus.

So, when I had children, I expected them to have to grow into certain foods, as I did. And my husband and I, although raised hundreds of miles apart, shared the same after-dinner experience of sitting alone, staring at a plate of cold green beans. (Green beans were difficult to swallow whole.) “Just eat it and you can go play,” our mothers would say. Eventually we did. I like green beans now, my husband still hates them.

After years of trying everything to make my children healthy through eating the five-a-day servings of vegetables, I accept that I have failed. If I count ketchup, potatoes and pickles, we could meet the criteria most days. As my friends tell me how their children eat beets, drink carrot juice and fight over the last stalk of asparagus, I confess to children who gag at the table over a tiny piece of tomato, well up and refuse to eat anything that is greenish or “looks funny.” I even grew our own vegetables, the kids helping plant and care for them and. yes, were even excited to try them, only to gag and refuse any further tasting.

So, it was with great interest that I read about taste studies at Cornell University. Apparently, there are people who are super tasters. These folks have a high taste sensitivity that allows them to taste the bitter or strong flavors of foods that normal tasters would not notice. Apparently, super tasters make up 25 percent of the adult population, which leaves the remainder as moderately sensitive (50 percent) and mildly sensitive (25 percent). Given that most children are more sensitive to food taste, it might be safe to assume that 75 percent of children are really super tasters. The 25 percent who will later be mildly sensitive are the kids who will eat beets and drink carrot juice. I don’t have any of those children in my family.

If you have children who examine all the food on their plates with magnifying glasses, quiz you through meal preparation about what is in “it,” sniff and smell everything as if they were the chief taster and sniffer for the King of Babylon, you may have not only a normal child, but a super taster.

Something I have noticed about my super-taster is that he likes other good-for-you foods. He loves legumes and grains. I covertly cook and blend every vegetable available when I make soup. If I don’t add too much, I can fool him into a serving or two. After reading the Cornell research, I also realize that my husband is a super taster.

For years, I enjoyed cooking and thought (previous to marriage and children) that I was a pretty fair cook. I like to try new things. I love cilantro, Indian spices and lemongrass. My husband and children apparently don’t taste food the way I do. After years of accusing me of poisoning them, I realize they mean it. These flavors, marvelous to me, taste bitter to them.

Here are a few interesting facts that may help you understand the super tasters in your family.

  • Mints are usually too strong. It can give them a rush-like feeling due to the over-stimulation of the trigeminal nerve.
  • They often have an acute sense of smell. (But not to their own emissions.)
  • Cruciferous vegetables, which many of us grow up to enjoy, remain bitter and unappealing to many super tasters.
  • Food taste is extremely important, they vary widely in their preferences and are often passionate about food. In contrast, the mildly sensitive taster likes most foods, (makes sense, he has no taste) but is not passionate about them.
  • In the food-related professions, highly sensitive tasters tend to be “wine” people; moderately sensitive tasters tend to be chefs; and mildly sensitive tasters tend to be bakers and financial experts.
  • Super tasters also don’t tend to like overly sweet things, so they may not ingest the amount of “bad for you foods” that release more free radicals, enabling them to remain fairly healthy in spite of not meeting the five-a-day regimen.
  • Some super tasters have so many fungiform papillae on their tongues that they appear to be cracked and creviced.

I still look for ways to cook healthy foods for my super tasters, but I no longer cry at the end of dinner when my four-hour cooking stint ends with everyone (self excepted) hating the meal. I don’t take it personally.

Tammy Bush is a retired pediatric nurse. She is a full-time mom and wife and dreams of living on a farm. She can be reached at bushboys3@centurytel.net.


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