Supertasters Need for Salt
Supertaster too? If you tried the little paper test back in high school biology class–also know as phenylthiocarbamide (yeah, I can’t pronounce it either) or PTC–you either got a wallop of bitterness drenching your tongue or you tasted nothing. For me, I felt like I’d just licked the edge of a rancid, sour lime. Yet among a classroom of students, I still remember that supertasters weren’t in the majority. If you don’t happen to have PTC paper around, you can take a look at your tongue to give you some clues about your tasting ability–or lack of it. Not surprisingly, more tastebuds=more tasting. Your gender may also give you some clue as women tend to be supertasters more so than men. One in four people (among Caucasians anyway) are supertasters.
And what exactly is a supertaster? As the name implies, for supertasters flavors are stronger and more layered than for a non-taster. So when Penn State and the University of Connecticut researchers began looking in to who craves salt more, they expected that nontasters would be the obvious choice. Not quite. Turns out that supertasters reach for the salty foods with greater frequency than their nontaster friends, according to the research, but nontasters tend to salt their food at the table more. So, for example, a supertaster would indulge in a pile of Pringles and maybe skip salting her piece of pot roast. Whereas a nontaster might find the Pringles too salty, but generously salt her grilled chicken breast because it seemed bland without the extra sprinkle.
So why the need for salt? The researchers aren’t sure exactly, but their best guesses are that supertasters perceive flavor to the point that they need a little intensity to keep food appealing. They also point out that salt tends to cancel out the bitterness in foods so food manufacturers can easily up the salt to even out the flavor.
“This all raises some interesting questions. First, since most people aren’t supertasters, why do food manufacturers add so much salt to their products? Hayes says it’s because salt is a really cheap way to add flavor.
‘It’s the third-cheapest ingredient, after air and water,’ Hayes says. ‘Chefs know that salt enhances sweetness and blocks bitterness. So if you want to push up your score in a consumer test, you just push up that salt content.’”
In the end, Hayes says it’s probably harder–but not impossible–for supertasters to suppress their genetic predisposition for salt and cut back the sodium in their diet. And there’s plenty of good reasons to limit salt intake as I’ve been learning from women’s health blogger, Sheryl Kraft. So what about the rest of you? Saltaholic supertaster or nontaster that can control your need to reach for the shaker?