I am not a freak. I am not picky. I am not hard to please, inflexible, or timid. I am…a supertaster. The scientific validation of what I have always known has set me free. Foods like coffee and mustard literally make me gag. Raw tomato tastes like acidic dirt (or what I imagine acidic dirt would taste like) to me. Almost all beans, with the exception of green beans, are un-choke-down-able. Peanuts are disgusting.
I am not a timid or picky eater. I am always willing to try new foods, and I eat all sorts of strange things (snails, calamari, oysters, pop tarts, kipper snacks). I love different ethnic foods (Chinese, Italian, Lebanese, Greece-y) and am not a restaurant snob. However, there have always been certain foods that I cannot eat. Not ‘will not’ eat…cannot eat, at least not without having to control the gag reflex. And all my life I have been referred to as picky and/or inflexible with regards to food, when I knew that I wasn’t. I didn’t know what I was, but I knew that I wasn’t picky. I didn’t have a choice. I was born this way.
I was born a supertaster. Supertasters (25% of the population) have a higher concentration of taste buds on their tongue, and experience tastes at three to five times the level of normal tasters. The scientists involved say that supertasters live in a neon taste world, while normal tasters (50% of the population) live in a pastel world. The remaining 25% are the non-tasters, who are nearly impervious to bitter and spicy foods. The non-tasters are the folks who eat any and everything, regardless of taste, texture, bitterness, or spiciness. Supertasters, on the other hand, are particularly sensitive to bitter tastes, which are prevalent in things like coffee and vegetables.
When I first read about the concept of supertasters, I immediately knew they were describing me. As a kid my mother adapted our household meals so that there was always stuff I could eat. I know that it was probably difficult for her, and troublesome, and she did always try to get me to eat my vegetables and to try new things. As a kid I was horrified at the thought of new foods, because I knew that a) it was impolite to not eat the food on one’s plate and b) everyone figured that a child who resisted a certain food was ‘just being picky’, and they pressured the child to ‘just try it without thinking you’ll hate it’ and it would be okay. So I avoided, to the extent a child can, any circumstances where I would be forced (FORCED) to choke down food that was making me gag. Not by evil people, but by people who just did not understand.
As I got older I got much more open to new foods, because everyone respects the food choices made by adults, and if I didn’t want to eat something I didn’t eat it. This opened up a whole gastronomic world to me that I had avoided because of the minefield of forced ingestion. I love trying new foods, and I will willingly try anything once. But there is a list of foods that I cannot eat. I regularly revisit this list, just to see if things have changed, and they never do.
Example number one is coffee. I *love* the smell of coffee brewing. It smells like heaven. But I cannot drink coffee in any form. I don’t care how much sugar, cream, foam, or flavoring you put in it, it still tastes horrible to me. HORRIBLE. I don’t care if you chill it, decaffeinate it, latte it, french press it, freeze dry it, or slow roast it. I hate it. I love my wife, but I won’t even kiss her after she drinks it. DisGUSTing. And I *want* to like coffee. Not drinking coffee puts one in a very strange social no-man’s-land that not many people know about. I don’t “go out for coffee”. I don’t “take it black or with cream”. At least Starbucks serves some pretty delicious hot chocolate, so I don’t end up sitting there like a dope with a coke in the coffee shop. When people learn that I don’t drink coffee, it brings them up short, as if I said I didn’t really believe in gravity. Not that they don’t understand what I’m saying, but it’s just the whole concept is foreign…I mean, gravity is a natural law, and one’s beliefs have nothing to do with it. Believe me, in American society today there is a natural law that all socialization must eventually revolve around coffee.
Did you know that many, many menus do not specify the presence of mustard on hamburgers and hot dogs? “A delicious, 1/3 pound burger, cooked to order, with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles…” says the menu. And you order it, you get it, and guess what’s smeared on the bread? Clotted yellow crap, that’s what. Mustard. You can pick off the pickles and onions, if you like, but you can’t unabsorb the nasty mustardiness from the bread. If you ask about it, the waitron will look confused, because “well….hamburgers just come with mustard….it’s assumed, you know?” If I don’t know the condiment standards of a particular establishment, I now always order “and NO mustard”, regardless of what the menu says. That ensures that I (usually) don’t get mustard, but many times it also generates a condescending reference to how their burgers don’t come with mustard, and a feigned look at the menu to verify that I, as the consumer, was just too stupid to have read that for myself.
The One Reason I Like Lawyers
Thankfully (for me) there are many, many people who are seriously allergic to peanuts. As in life-threatening. This means that if you order something with no peanuts, people usually take you seriously, as a potential opponent in civil litigation. Nothing prompts a restaurant to get an order right like the threat of a lawsuit. They also always know which dishes have peanuts in them, specifically to service their allergic clientele. I gleefully and unashamedly take advantage of this situation, because I love many foods that traditionally come with peanuts, but I HATE PEANUTS, IN ALL FORMS. Even if “there’s just a little bit” and “you can’t even taste it”, trust me, I can. I’m actually shuddering with repulsion thinking of the times I’ve accidentally eaten things that were peanut-ridden.
Parents, Please Listen to Your Children
I know that there are bratty little kids who claim to hate every single food. They are just being ornery. But parents, you KNOW if that’s what your child is like, because they do it with other stuff, too. If you have a kid who will sit without television for hours while you wait for them to choke down a dozen peas, you may have a supertaster for a child. You may also just have a stubborn brat, but, as a parent, I know that you’ll know the difference, at least eventually. If you have always been able to eat everything that was put in front of you, then bully for you. But don’t bully your kid once you’ve realized that they really do HATE what they’re eating, and it does TASTE LIKE DIRT, and it is MAKING THEM GAG.
There have to be realistic limits, but please don’t automatically assume that your child is faking. I was that child once, and although we did have some conflict over it, my Mom really did a remarkable job of putting food on the table that the whole family could eat, including me. And supertasters really don’t like vegetables. That’s a sad fact, but as a kid virtually all vegetables tasted like dirt to me…and nasty dirt, at that. And if you force your kids to eat foods that are, quite literally, disgusting to them, you may be laying the groundwork for future eating disorders.
Also, this is not junk science. Go to your favorite web/news sources and search for ‘supertaster’. This is very real. It’s also very real vindication for all of the others like me who have been persecuted over the years. And it turns out that, not only were we not picky, the actual issue is that only we were able to experience all the flavor of foods, and that some of them are just disgusting. Everyone thinks they have taste. But only the few, the proud, the supertasters, have been scientifically proven to have three to five times the taste of rest of you.