Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Esq. Supertaster?

A food writer with no capacity for taste. A wave of nausea hit. I had no idea if it was the sour cream or white-hot panic. - David Leite, from "Tales of a Supertaster"

67% of the books that I’ve read this week (consisting of Eating My Words and Best Food Writing 2006) referred to Dr. Linda Bartoshuk. She’s a Yale professor who has developed tasks to evaluate how sensitive to a taste or taste element (e.g. sweet or sour) an individual is. (An example would be the test that our class did in biology, when we placed paper strips on our tongues to test our sensitivity of PCP PTC. This dominant trait causes most people to taste the paper as bitter.)

There is so much to be said about the sensation of food in your mouth, and most writers describe it from an emotional perspective. But the word “sensation,” like “sensual,” derives from the word “sense” – something grounded by physiological observation. In a similar vein, Bartoshuk’s research examines the biological basis and mechanism of taste, something we often overlook. Maybe we forget what our meatloaf tastes like because we’re engaged in a dinner conversation, but it could also be because we have stuffy noses – or as Bartoshuk’s lab considers, we’re genetically less sensitive to the flavors that comprise meatloaf.

Although Bartoshuk calls those significantly more sensitive to these tests "supertasters," but Connecticut food writer Leite discovers that the term doesn't refer to "gustatory supremacy." Nevertheless, I'm still interested. It's an good reason for a New Haven field trip.

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