One of the silly, little things that inspired me to try food writing was learning that I am, in fact, a supertaster. As a supertaster there are certain flavors that ignite greater sensations from my tastebuds. It’s a gift that allows me to better pick up on the nuances within foods and discern the ingredients and flavors behind a meal. In my childhood, my grandparents often tried to swap their homemade sauces with commercial or frozen variants. They have yet to sneak something past my tongue!
I first discovered my supertasting status at the book reading for author Joanne Chen’s A Taste of Sweet at the Asian American Writer’s Workshop. To demonstrate the variety of perceptions in peoples’ sense of taste, each member of the audience was invited to lay a strip of phenylthiocarbamide or PTC on their tongue. For some, PTC elicits no feeling at all, but for others, especially supertasters, the chemical leaves quite the bitter taste. In my case, I found the experience so heinous that I ripped the strip off my tongue in seconds but continued to gag for several minutes. At the end of the tasting lesson, I learned that both the ability to taste PTC and the trait of supertasting can be linked to the simple but wondrous mechanism of genetics.
Being a supertaster can come as a double-edged sword for a food writer. Sometimes, there are flavors that are too overpowering for me. The amount of saltiness in a bag of potato chips can send me into a coughing fit. There are certain foods that I will never enjoy, including alcohol, coffee without a ton of sugar and milk, grapefruit, sauerkraut, extremely spicy foods, and bitter leafy greens (though as I age, my taste for kale does seem to be growing).
Now, one might think that supertasters might not make the best food critics based on our sensitivities, which rarely match up with the rest of the population. However, I’ve found that truly delicious meals can be appreciated by anybody. The love, dedication, effort, preparation, presentation, and creativity behind good food all contribute to one’s enjoyment, taste only representing a single facet, though a very important one. In the end, I believe that we supertasters just have a greater appreciation for the meticulousness that goes into preparing our meals–an appreciation that I hope to spread through my writing.