How to: discover if you're a super-taster

Mark Miodownik, presenter from Dara O Briain's Science Club on BBC Two, reveals how you can perform exciting experiments at home. Are you a super-taster? Test your tastebuds to find out...

Super-tasters experience the five basic tastes, especially bitter foods, with greater intensity. Work out if you are a super-taster by following Mark's simple step-by-step instructions.

Mark Miodownik One in four of us are super-tasters. Here is how you can test if you have a sensitive tongue...
Mark Miodownik Cover a cotton bud in blue food dye and paint the tip of your tongue
Mark Miodownik Then place a hole punch ring-reinforcer onto the dyed area of the tongue with tweezers
Mark Miodownik The tongue will take up the dye, but the papillae, tiny structures that house the taste buds, will stay pink.
Mark Miodownik Ask a friend to count the small pink bumps that emerge using a magnifying glass. Alternatively count them in a mirror or take a photo of your tongue. See how you compare to others in the table below.

Things you'll need:

  • Bottle of blue food dye
  • Cotton buds
  • Tweezers
  • Hole punch reinforcers
  • Magnifying glass
  • Taster chart (see below)
  • Damp cloth or tissues

How to do it:

How does taste work?

broccoli

When we eat food it comes into contact with our taste buds, which are bundled inside the small bumps on the tongue and soft palate called papillae.

Chemicals in the food, known as tastants, make contact with the 30-100 taster receptor cells inside each taste bud. These stimulate nearby sensory neurons, which send a signal to an area at the back of the brain. This process creates five main taste sensations - sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (savoury).

However, to experience flavour we combine taste with our other senses - especially smell and touch.

Be very careful with the food dye as it stains and check that you're not sensitive to its ingredients!

1.

Place a cotton bud into your bottle of blue food dye until it is well coated. Stick your tongue out and, using a mirror for guidance, coat the front third of your tongue with the dye.

2.

Next, carefully place a hole punch reinforcer on to your tongue. You can stick two ring reinforcers together to help transfer it more smoothly. If you don't have any reinforcers you can use a hole-punch to create a hole in a small square of waxed paper.

3.

The blue dye will stain the tongue but slide off the prominent pink bumps known as papillae. Each bump contains three to five taste buds.

4.

Ask a friend to count how many pink bumps they can see on your tongue inside the ring reinforcer - try to keep your tongue still! They may find it easier using a magnifying glass.

Alternatively you can try and count them in the mirror or take a photo of your tongue and zoom in on the image.

The chart below reveals how your sense of taste compares to the rest of the nation...

Number of papillae Type of Taster How common in population

Fewer than 15

Non-taster

One in four

15 - 35

Average taster

One in two

More than 35

Super-taster

One in four

Dara O Briain asks the Science Club audience to try a rather bitter experiment

Send your super-tasting tongue pictures to us @BBCScienceClub

Dara O Briain's Science Club is at 8pm, Thursdays throughout August 2013 on BBC Two

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