It's a Chip, It's a Pretzel, It's a Supertaster!

It's a Chip, It's a Pretzel, It's a Supertaster!

Food & Drink

It's a Chip, It's a Pretzel, It's a Supertaster!

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By Cari Martens

Do you have an intense craving for potato chips? Do you obsessively lick the inside of the shells when eating salted-in-the-shell peanuts? Do you just love those pretzels dotted with the extra-large salt granules?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you, my friend, may be a ‘supertaster.’ And, according to a new study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, it’s probably genetic.

Researchers at Penn State and the University of Connecticut conducted a study of healthy, nonsmoking men and women aged 20-40 and monitored their taste intensity while they ate salty foods such as broth, chips and pretzels, on multiple occasions, spread out over weeks. The people they classified as ‘supertasters’—those who experienced the taste of salty, sweet, bitter, and sour most intensely—craved the taste of salt the most.

“Supertasters, people who experience tastes more intensely, consume more salt than do nontasters,’ said John Hayes, one of the study’s authors. ‘Snack foods have saltiness as their primary flavor, and at least for these foods, more is better, so the supertasters seem to like them more.” Plus, those who experience more bitterness also perceive more saltiness in table salt, more sweetness from table sugar, more burn from chili peppers, and more tingle from soft drinks, he explained.

The so-called supertasters (about one in four) have a genetic makeup that heightens their taste perception. Supertasters ‘live in a neon world,’ says Hayes. They also have more discriminating palates. They taste everything more intensely. Anecdotally at least, many chefs are thought to be supertasters.

The researchers thought the supertasters would be less likely to desire salty foods—since, because they would taste the salt more intensely, they’d need less to satisfy their desire. What they found was just the opposite. ‘For them, more is better,’ Hayes said. ‘Goldilocks was wrong.’

One surprise: the study showed that supertasters don’t actually reach for the saltshaker as much as the medium and nontasters. “We think what’s going on here is that when supertasters get to the table they’re more responsive to the salt already in food,” Hayes says. “Whereas to nontasters, food is perceived as bland, so they add more.”

Of course, we should note that too much salt/sodium is not healthy for anyone, supertasters and nontasters alike.

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