Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • This is just an ordinary strip of paper, coated in a chemical known as phenylthiocarbamide,

  • or PTC.

  • As an experiment, were going to have different people around the office each lick a strip.

  • You mightve 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, theyre what’s called a medium taster, with a slightly

  • higher sensitivity. With two copies, theyre 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 youre 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 supertasterssensitivity to PTC after some of the chemical

  • exploded in an accident at a Du Pont 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 youre one of those people who can’t stand the taste of broccoli and brussel sprouts,

  • it might just be that they taste a lot worse to you than to your vegetable-loving friends.

  • Thanks for asking, and thanks to all of our patrons on Patreon who keep these answers

  • coming. If you’d like to submit questions to be answered, or get these Quick Questions

  • a few days before everyone else, go to And don’t forget to go to

  • and subscribe!

This is just an ordinary strip of paper, coated in a chemical known as phenylthiocarbamide,

Subtitles and vocabulary

Click the word to look it up Click the word to find further inforamtion about it