Last week I began exploring the topic of palate diversity, but there’s so much to learn I’m going to continue the discussion.
When discussing Physical Taste (palate) Diversity, we ended with a quick note about “Super tasters.” There are actually (3) categories of tasters, and each group is determined by the number of papillae, or taste buds that they have. The most common way to determine this is to calculate how many you have in a small area and then multiply that number by the total surface area of your tongue.
The easiest way I’ve found is to perform this simple experiment. Get some blue food coloring, a paper reinforcement ring (or a piece of paper with a hole punched in it – 7mm or 0.5 inches in diameter), a magnifying glass and a mirror. After applying a drop of food coloring and “painting” your tongue blue, place the hole of paper on the top of your tongue near the tip. Poking out from the blue, you will see little white taste buds. Using the magnifying glass, give these a count. Within this circle, the first group, “Non-tasters” or “Tolerant tasters” will have <15 papillae; the “Normal taster” has between 15-35, and “Super tasters” have >35. When you consider that the average human has 10,000 taste buds, that’s quite a difference!
More interesting is the fact that of these 10,000 or so taste buds, not all are on the tongue. Some are under the tongue; some are on the inside of the cheeks; some are on the roof of the mouth. Some can even be found on the lips, which are especially sensitive to salt.
One thing is true regardless of how many or how few taste buds we have: on average, only about half of us can distinguish between expensive and inexpensive wine. In a recent experiment, in fact, participants were asked to taste pairs of wines and determine which was expensive ($15 – $45) and which was inexpensive (under $8). Their success rate was just 50%.
The good news for fine wine lovers is knowing that the cost of wine usually reflects its health benefits. More expensive wines use a higher quality of grape, which means more antioxidants, while cheaper wines may contain methanol and other toxins, leading to a nasty hangover. Isn’t it interesting that half of the people tested couldn’t tell the difference?