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Some people have more taste buds than the rest of us. They’re called supertasters, and they can taste things others can’t.

Special thanks to our tasters:
Matthew Gaydos
Lindsey Doe
Julia Maes
Hank Green

Music Credit:
"Marty Gots a Plan" Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Hosted by: Michael Aranda
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This is just an ordinary strip of paper, coated in a chemical known as phenylthiocarbamide, or PTC.

As an experiment, we’re going to have different people around the office each lick a strip.

You might’ve noticed that Hank’s reaction was intense. Well, that means that chances are he’s a supertaster, with a higher sensitivity to the five flavors we know as salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and umami.

It’s a genetically-inherited trait -- and dominant, meaning that only one parent has to have the supertasting allele, or version of the gene, for their child to feel its effects.

If the kid gets one copy of the allele, they’re what’s called a medium taster, with a slightly higher sensitivity. With two copies, they’re a true supertaster.

It’s difficult to measure taste sensitivity, and scientists still aren’t totally clear how taste is read by the brain, but we do know that supertasters exist because they can taste things others can’t -- especially bitter substances -- and they have up to twice the number of taste buds as average tasters.

Each taste bud is composed of between 50 and 150 taste receptor cells, and they sit on small, mushroom-shaped tongue bumps called fungiform papillae.

If you want to see if you’re a supertaster, you can count the density of your papillae by swishing around blue food coloring. The color sticks to the base of your tongue, so you can see the pink bumps better.

Cut a small ring of paper about the size of a hole punch, place it on your blue-and-pink tongue, and count the number of big papillae within the hole. Compare with your friends!

Or you can just try these little PTC-coated strips of paper, which taste horribly bitter to supertasters, slightly weird to medium tasters, and just kinda bland to everybody else.

Scientists found out about supertasters’ sensitivity to PTC after some of the chemical exploded in an accident at a DuPont lab in 1931. Some workers complained about how bitter it tasted, but others couldn’t taste a thing.

Today, researchers often use a chemical called PROP, which is also more bitter to supertasters.

Both PTC and PROP have similar properties to compounds found in dark green vegetables like kale and spinach, and with their highly-sensitive tongues, supertasters detect the bitterness.

But it’s not just bitter substances; many supertasters also can’t stand the taste of overly sweet things like ice cream or acidic drinks like coffee. The sensory overload on the taste buds is just too much.

So, if you’re one of those people who can’t stand the taste of broccoli and Brussels sprouts, it might just be that they taste a lot worse to you than to your vegetable-loving friends.

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