Home Food & Cooking Living with a Supertaster – 15 foods and drinks to avoid and tips to make mealtime easier

Living with a Supertaster – 15 foods and drinks to avoid and tips to make mealtime easier

by Leanne

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Until last month, I thought I had a picky eater. I have always been so proud of the fact that my girls are adventurous eaters and don’t ever require kid’s menus. They prefer vegetables, don’t have a problem with spicy foods, and both have very healthy diets that nutritionists would be thrilled with. My son, on the other hand, is incredibly picky.

He doesn’t even like foods that kids are supposed to prefer, like cakes, candy, and sugary drinks. In fact, this picture above was staged because he flat-out refused to try a s’more when we were camping and instead ate way too many graham crackers. He just likes bland food, and that drives me crazy. I refuse to make special food for him, so we used to fight at every meal as he would recoil if a minuscule piece of leafy greens got left on his food or he would pick apart a meal asking what each tiny thing was. Making him lunches for school this past year has been my least favorite daily chore because there are so many things that he won’t eat and the foods he will eat aren’t easy to prepare and don’t travel to school well. School lunch

That’s life with a picky eater, and it can be rough.

But, I never thought that there might be a reason why he is so picky and unwilling to try new foods. My husband, however, had been doing research and thought we might have a supertaster on our hands. Yeah, that’s right, a supertaster.SuperheroSo, hubby ordered up the tests and it turns out he was right – if our son’s reaction can be trusted, he definitely is a supertaster. Me, the girls, and for the most part hubby are all within the normal range, but our son is a supertaster.

Never heard of a supertaster before? Let me give you a little history: In a 1991 Yale Medical School study, Psychologist Linda Bartoshuk coined the terms supertaster, medium tasters, and non-tasters to categorize people by their sensitivity to bitter, sour, sweet, and salt. In this research, they found the following general breakdown of the population as it relates to taste: 25% supertasters, 50% medium tasters and 25% non-tasters. Bartoshuk described the difference in this way, “Supertasters live in a ‘neon’ taste world, while others live in a ‘pastel’ world.”

Before you go thinking that supertasting would be an awesome super power that would lead to appreciation for fine foods and generally foodie-ness, let me tell you what life as a supertaster is like: it sucks. Supertasters tend to eat fewer vegetables because of their bitter taste and consume more sodium to mask the bitterness. But, on the positive side, supertasters have a reduced preference for sweet, high-fat foods. They are also less likely to smoke and they tend not to like alcohol, which is a definite plus for older supertasters. Jenny Craig Chicken WrapsNeed more proof that supertasters exist? Check out any online recipe, ever. Inevitably most of the people will be like “this recipe was great, my family loved it!” peppered with “this was awful – I couldn’t even finish one bite”. It also might explain why some people prefer Twizzlers over Red Vines, but that just might need a whole other scientific test for me to understand.

As a normal taster who cooks and packs lunches for a young supertaster, I’ve come up with some guidelines to help feed my son the healthiest I can. To help you mamas out who are also dealing with a supertaster, I’m sharing with you not only foods to avoid but also ways to cope with supertasting so it doesn’t leave you feeling like a short order cook who has to make special foods for everyone.

Foods to avoid:
Brussel sprouts
Broccoli
Cucumber
Hot, spicy foods
Leafy greens like kale, cilantro, and spinach
Green peppers
Green olives
Sugary cakes and treats
Dark chocolate
Creamy foods

Drinks to avoid:
Super sweet drinks
Tonic and seltzer water

Things to avoid for adult supertasters:

Black coffee
Hops-heavy beer
Unsweetened alcoholic beverages

Do you know a supertaster? Never fear, there are things that you can do to help your supertaster get a more varied diet and take the battle out of mealtime.

Here are some things that work well for us:

Encourage trying new foods. We used to fight constantly to get our son to “just try it!” at each meal, and then we got smart. We ordered these awesome Dinner Winner plates and would put new foods in each time. The competitive nature of our son outweighed his overactive taste buds, and we eventually got him to try numerous foods we had been fighting over. He didn’t love them all, but we did find a few he is now willing to eat and that’s a huge win for us. Dinner WinnerDo what you can to combat bitterness in foods. Salt and seasoning can help mask bitterness, and cooking some vegetables makes them less bitter. If your child is now trying new foods, you can experiment until you find cooking methods and healthy sauces that make foods edible to them.

Grow and make your own foods. If you have a super picky eater that can detect the tiniest traces of bitterness, sometimes it’s easier to just make things from scratch. As you know, we now make all of our own bread, grow what we can in our veggie garden so foods are fresh from the garden, and we modify recipes within reason to accommodate his tastes. Eating tomatoesKeep a list of things your child will eat. It can seem overwhelming when you start thinking about everything your child won’t eat, so I like to keep a list of foods my son likes and add to it whenever we find a new food. The list is happily growing and includes healthy foods, vegetables, and most fruits.

Bring snacks. I always swore I wouldn’t be the mama who had to cart around snacks, but necessity won out. Now, I carry a small snack in my purse, in my car, and in the stroller for our days out that I know my son will eat. That way, I don’t get stuck paying way too much for foods he will eat, or worse, not being able to find anything at all.

Road Trip foodsLet your supertaster go grocery shopping with you. I can’t even tell you how many times I thought my son liked something because he choked it down out of starvation, but it turns out that he can’t stand, but let me tell you, it’s a lot. Now, I get him involved in shopping and he can point out items I would otherwise pass and help me chose between healthier choices.

Find at least one thing your child will eat at restaurants. We don’t want to let our son’s tastes keep us from enjoying Indian, Thai, Mexican, Japanese, or any other types of foods, so we make it a point to take him where we all want to go and find a few things everywhere that he will eat. He now eats a surprising amount of ethnic foods, will eat foods that other kids won’t touch, and we don’t get stuck going out for bland foods. It’s still a hard road, but at least we’re not constantly fighting. Burger in Turks and Caicos
So, are you a supertaster? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Do leafy greens taste bitter?
Does coffee taste bitter?
Is eating spicy food or hot peppers painful?
Is cake usually too sweet?
Is cream too creamy?
Does most beer taste sharp and unappealing?
Is dark chocolate too intense and bitter?
Do you hate cilantro and think it tastes like soap?

If you answered yes to some of these, you just might be a supertaster. The only way to really tell is to count your papillae {the pink dots on your tongue associated with tastebuds} or to order a testing kit online.

For DIY testing at home: First, grab a piece of paper with a hole punch. Then, stain your tongue with food coloring, which will help the fungiform papillae stand out more visibly. Hold the piece of paper over your stained tongue, using the hole to give you a small, countable section. Using a magnifying glass and a mirror, start counting the pink mushroom-shaped lumps. If you have 35+, you’re a supertaster. Medium tasters have 15-35, whereas non-tasters have under 15.

Supertasters

Photo credit: Harvard School of Public Health

Store-bought at home testing kit: You can order kits that use 6-n-propylthiouracil {PROP} to see whether your family members are supertasters. Because PROP can be unbearably bitter to supertasters, you can use test strips with PROP right on the tongue. We tried this with our son and weren’t expecting much, but he had such a harsh reaction that it was clear he was a supertaster. I found it to be mildly bitter, which is in the normal range. While the kit wasn’t as definitive as I would like {and my husband specifically would like to request a test that starts dinging and lights start flashing if the result is positive}, we’re happy we at least have an answer as to why two of our kids will eat anything – literally, anything – and another one would have to be bribed with hundreds of dollars to eat cake.

You can find the supertaster tests here. Admittedly, the test doesn’t change much about anything, we just now know that he’s not trying to torture me with his picky eating. Will it give him an automatic pass to throw fits about food? Absolutely not. But, me knowing that much of his pickiness is beyond his control and he may never develop a taste for certain things gives me a bit more patience. It also gives me hope that we can figure out better ways to deal with supertasting and figure out solutions to mealtimes, and that to me makes it worth it to spring for the supertasting kit.

Think you might have a supertaster? Be sure and pin this so you can find it again! Supertaster

Check out more articles about supertasters here and here.

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14 comments

Arabella June 22, 2017 - 10:31 am

Hmmm, I might have a supertaster

Reply
Kit June 27, 2017 - 10:22 pm

This is seriously blowing my mind. Who knew supertasters were a thing??

Reply
Julie Wood July 10, 2017 - 4:56 am

This is very interesting! I love the plate to have my kids try out and see if they will try different foods. I think we are Supertasters!

Reply
Elena July 11, 2017 - 7:46 am

I never heard of this before today

Reply
shelly peterson July 12, 2017 - 3:19 am

I have never heard of a Supertaster before. This was very interesting to read about.

Reply
Janet W. July 15, 2017 - 7:38 am

I have a lot of picky eaters in my family! These are very good tips and information to know!

Reply
Cynthia Ridgely January 22, 2019 - 3:10 am

My 58 year old daughter was always a picky eater; found out about 4 months ago that she is a “Supertaster. Explains alot, finally ?

Reply
Leanne January 24, 2019 - 10:38 pm

Isn’t that funny? It certainly changes how I approach his “picky-ness”

Reply
Sarah May 12, 2019 - 7:39 am

I am a supertaster for bitterness, and was s nightmare picky eater as a child. I am now a research scientist looking at supertaster genes, and unfortunately the fat/sugar sensitivity is separate to the bitterness one: I hate rocket & Brussel sprouts, but love cake & sweet creamy things. So weight gain is a bit of a problem when I hate ALL salad!

Reply
Leanne May 15, 2019 - 6:02 am

That’s fascinating! My son is slowly becoming able to eat bitter items, but sweets are still very much a no-go

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Bailey January 26, 2020 - 4:47 pm

Sarah, I am a 32 year old super taster and eat no veggies. I want so badly to be a healthy veggie eater but every time I try it’s so bad!!! Do you want any? What do you like? I as well do not like the spicy/bitter flavor of ethnic foods which holds me back from life a lot, as well as my wife. Leanne what does your son like at those places?

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Leanne February 14, 2020 - 5:24 am

He also hates spicy of any kind, as well as most bitter foods. It was a definite struggle to get him to eat broccoli and now he’ll do it as a favor. He basically would prefer carrots forever – but they have to be the perfect kind or he won’t be able to stomach them.

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michelle karamesic February 7, 2020 - 4:52 pm

Hmm. I have s SUPER picky eater (literally only wants to eat 4/5 things). He gets overwhelmed with the smells of foods and doesn’t like a lot of textures. However, he LOVES sweets, so maybe he’s not a super taster but has some other issue? We’ve been searching for help for years 🙁

Reply
Leanne February 14, 2020 - 5:23 am

He might be just ultra sensitive to certain scents/tastes/textures. My son still hates sweets and he’s now 9, so I’m thinking he’s not going to expand that part of his palette at this point.

Reply

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