According to Yale PhD Linda Bartoshuk, about 25% of the population are supertasters (15% male, 35% female), and those that are owe their supertaster status to a genetic lottery. We’re either born with a tongue crammed with fungiform papillae, mushroom looking blisters which house bunches of taste buds on our tongues, or we’re not. A similar amount, about a quarter of the population, are non-tasters. The rest are normal tasters.
Super tasters usually show their superness by being extremely sensitive to bitter and spicy flavors. Non tasters will show no aversion at all to bitter tastes that super tasters will gag on, and normal tasters fall somewhere in between.
How this applies to wine specifically is anyone’s guess. Does being a genetically endowed super taster make you a better wine consumer? Does being one make you a better or more reliable wine reviewer? Perhaps, but some argue that being a super taster can actually harm your ability to appreciate wine.
Whatever the case, if you’re wondering if you were one of those born a supertaster or not, you can find out (probably) by following these simple steps.
1. Take a cotton ball dipped in blue food coloring and and spread it all over the tip of your tongue. Swirl the coloring around and then spit and rinse. Dry your tongue as best you can.
2. Take a peice of paper with a .5 inch hole punched in it and press it up against the tip of your tongue.
3. Grab a camera with a macro feature and have someone take a close up shot of the exposed portion of your tongue. Most literature on this technique instructs to use a magnifying glass to count the fungiform papillae while you hold your mouth open, but that seems a little weird to me. I recommend a photo.
4. Count up the number of large, round, pinkish blister looking things that you can see in the sample space provided by the .5 inch hole.
If you count fewer than 15 papillae you are a non-taster. If you have from 15 to 35 papillae you are a normal taster. If you have over 35 papillae, go get your tongue a cape, because you’re a super taster baby!
If you have trouble determining what to count as a fungiform papillae, you’re not alone. In the picture to the left of my tongue I’ve highlighted what I think are qualifying papillae and those smaller ones which may or may not be. Good luck!