By design, humans crave sweet-tasting foods, which supply necessary calories, and avoid bitter-tasting foods, which could be poisonous. But an individual's genetic makeup can acutely tune taste buds. Visitors to Linda Bartoshuk's Yale University lab can take a simple taste test to discover genetic influences on their food intake. The test measures sensitivity to the chemical 6-n-propyl-thiouracil, which is intensely bitter to acute taste buds, moderately bitter to a medium taste bud, and tasteless to an insensitive bud.

Editor's Note: This is the third article in a five-part series on the senses. The next article, on the sense of touch, will appear in the Oct. 29 issue.

Sensitive tasters, or supertasters, generally have more taste buds--and they are often women. To them, vegetables are more bitter, fats creamier, and chili peppers hotter. Conversely, nontasters are more likely to eat excessively sweet, very fatty, and highly spiced foods. Not surprisingly,...

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