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Can everyone taste bitter foods?

Have you ever thought that radicchio tastes different to every single person? While ones love the bitterness of broccoli, chicory, spinach and coffee, others cannot even think about the idea of tasting them.

Is it possible that each person has a different bitter taste perception?

Tasting food is a fascinating process that we do every day without even paying so much attention. Smell and sight play an important role in the tasting process, but it is our tongue who has the final word: “I like it” or “I hate it”. Our tongue is covered with numerous buds which contain taste receptors and, with their help, we distinguish four basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. It is about the bitter taste we will write today in our blog post.


Genetics and the bitter taste perception

Did you know that around 25% of people lack the ability to detect bitter taste food due to gene mutations? Are you maybe like them?

There are 30 genes that are responsible for the sensitivity of bitter taste – one of them is so-called TAS2R38. Different variations of this gene affect our ability to detect bitter components like, for example, Phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) and Glucosinolates. That is the reason not all bitter foods are the same for everyone: there are different nuances of bitterness and every single person tastes them differently.

bitter taste perception

About 80% of all people with a common variant of this gene do not perceive certain bitter tastes.

A way of testing the bitter taste perception is using 6-N-propylthiouracil (PROP). To some people, very low concentrations of PROP are very bitter, while others cannot taste anything and ones taste it just a bit. There isn’t PROP in the natural environment. However, the ability to taste this substance is related to tasting other associated bitter substances found in broccoli, cabbage, coffee, tonic water and some beers. An example of this compound is the one called “glucosinolates” - one of the thousands of other substances with a bitter taste that we can find in nature.

It is known that glucosinolates can be toxic and affect the metabolism of iodine, which can lead to problems with the glandular thyroid. That is the reason some animals developed receptors to detect these substances. At some point in our evolution, the ability to taste glucosinolates was no longer relevant due to alterations in our diet so, over the course of time, the dominant form of the gene TAS2R38 has been preserved. About 80% of all people with a common variant of this gene do not perceive certain bitter tastes.

bitter taste perception

How is your ability to taste bitter foods?

The ability to taste different flavours might not seem as important as good eyesight or hearing, but it does greatly affect the quality of our lives. The daily decisions we do every day regarding which food we put on our plates (a little bit more spinach, perhaps?) are related to the way our body perceives the bitterness. Maybe you don’t like grapefruit juice because it tastes too bitter? The cause might be related to your food perception and DNA.

A genetic test can show if you are a carrier of the gene TAS2R38 and how this could make you a person with “more intense perception of bitter taste” or “less intense perception of bitter taste”. Do you enjoy a cup of bitter coffee in the morning or you add a full spoon of sugar to make it taste less bitter? Discover what your genes have to tell you about your perception for bitter taste. By understanding how your body reacts to different ingredients, you will be able to make healthier decisions to improve your nutrition and well-being.

Our tip! Bitter substances can be found in different vegetables like broccoli, chicory, kale, cabbage and spinach. Those substances are important for our digestion so don't avoid them in your meals just because they taste bitter.

Keep following our blog for articles about nutrition and wellness. Discover if how is your caffeine metabolism and if you are lactose intolerant.

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