ASU scientists study 'supertasters'

TEMPE, AZ - Many of us are picky eaters starting at a young age, but for Liz Engler-Chiurazzi, she never grew out of it.

"I was always kind of jealous of my friends who would eat anything and be happy and I was always wondering what was going on. Why couldn't I eat that seafood, or why that sauce was too creamy tasting?" said Engler-Chiurazzi.

It wasn't until Engler-Chiurazzi volunteered for a tasting study at ASU that she found out she's a "supertaster."

"Supertasters are people who can taste a certain chemical at a lower concentration, or they taste it stronger than most people," said Arizona State University PhD student Lynn Wilkie.

For Engler-Chiurazzi it means she can taste foods at a much higher intensity than most, making her sensitive to flavors like dark vegetables and creamy textures.

Scientists say 25% of the population in the U.S. finds food too tasty just like Engler-Chiurazzi.

"More women are supertasters than men. Also people who are Asian or African-American are also more likely to be supertasters," said Wilkie.

For the past three years, Wilkie has been studying the psychology of supertasters under Dr. Betty Phillips at ASU.

Wilkie hands people strips of paper with a chemical called phenylthiocarbamide or (PTC) as a taste test. People with super taste buds experience an extremely bitter taste.

Engler-Chiurazzi's first experience made her want to run out of the room for water. "You cannot mentally prepare for what you experience," she said.

Understanding that she is a supertaster has made her more knowledgeable about her eating habits and about her future children.

"I learned it's genetic. Since I'm expecting a little girl in May I think she will have the same issue that I grew up with, or even maybe worse," said Engler-Chiurazzi.

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