Brown people have no taste in wine

Dave Munger has a post up about discernment when it comes to wine. The Munger sayeth:

Researchers have known for some time that not everyone has the same ability to detect tastes. Some people -- "super-tasters" -- are especially sensitive to a wide range of tastes. As it turns out, whether or not you're a super-taster may come down to your ability to detect a single molecule: 6-n-propylthiouracil, or PROP for short. Those who can taste PROP find it incredibly bitter, but super-tasters are also extra sensitive to saltiness, sweetness, and even tactile sensations in the mouth.

I've posted on the genetics of taste and smell. There's a lot there. As it happens, it seems that there is some variation in the distribution of supertasters across the world. South Asians have the lowest frequency in general of supertasters. Some people have hypothesized that this might be due to an adaptation to spice in food; nontasters have a higher tolerance threshold for many flavors because of their insensitivity. I'm skeptical, but it's an idea. In any case, I've reproduced some data on taste variation between populations. I've also calculated the proportion of supertasters, assuming that this is a homozygous inverse of non-tasters. The data below aggregated tasters and supertasters, but a little algebra and Hardy-Weinberg assumptions can generate the proportion of supertasters.

PTC/PROP tasters
Population % Taster Calculated Supertaster
Brazilian Indian 99 81
Peruvian 98 74
Egyptian 96 64
Pure American Indians 94 57
Ecuadorian Andean 93-95 57
Japanese 93-95 57
Kenya African 92 51
Mixed American Indian X Caucasian 90 47
African Americans 88-91 46
Chinese 89 45
Ashkenazic Jews 72 22
North American Caucasian 70 20
Mennonites 68-80 26
Greek 68 19
Hindu 66 17
Aborigines 51 9
Indian (South) 48 8

For the record, I'm a nontaster, and I have a crappy palette.


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Is there an easy, at-home test one can perform, to know whether one is a supertaster?

It's probably not completely reliable, but see if you like the taste of fresh cilantro.

If you think it tastes like soapy bedbugs, you may be a supertaster.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 08 Mar 2008 #permalink

ha, ha, ha. I love the taste of cilantro -- and soapy bed bugs don't come to mind. But I think I have a rather great palette, especially when it comes to beverages (wine, beer, coffee, soda). What does that mean? But according to your stats, being African-American - I'm hit or miss to begin with. Go figure.

Cilantro? Yuck! I was a terribly picky eater as a child and young adult too. Until I started international traveling. Fortunately for me Guatemalan food is quite bland. The raw shellfish in France was harder, but not due to taste. 15 years in Japan and I never really did get to like a lot of their foods.

Before I went to Thailand the first time I spent months gradually building tolerance to very hot, spicy foods. Now, I love them. I think the theory that South Asians are non-tasters because they adapted to spicy foods (or is it vice-versa?)is weak. Tolerance is not hard to build up, and South Asians start as children.

By the way, Razib, here is a question I have asked Indian and Thai friends and never gotten a clear answer to. At what age do the kids start eating adult levels of spicy food? Is it a gradual process or do parents suddenly say "time for some real food"?

Indian (South) 48

A reliable Punjabi source informs me that South Indian cuisine is notorious for being "all chilies". Coincidence? I think not!

On the other hand, note the high proportion of Egyptian and South American tasters, despite their notoriously spicy foods.

By the way, Razib, here is a question I have asked Indian and Thai friends and never gotten a clear answer to. At what age do the kids start eating adult levels of spicy food? Is it a gradual process or do parents suddenly say "time for some real food"?

young and build up i think.