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In 1931, chemist A.F. Fox was involved in a lab accident that may have precipitated our current understanding of the physiology of taste. Fox and a colleague were exposed to the supertaster chemical and though Fox tasted nothing in the ambient air, his colleague reported a bitter taste in his mouth.

Fox was what modern science would refer to as a “non-taster,” 25% of our population is comprised of non-tasters, while 50% might be described as medium-tasters, individuals who would have tasted the bitterness in Fox’s lab. The remaining 25% of the population are now known as supertasters. Supertasters are born with a greater number of taste buds and a more sensitive perception of taste and oral pain.

These differences in taste throughout the population have a significant effect on the tolerability of certain foods, especially for super-tasters who may be averse to bitter, spicy, sweet or fatty foods. As result of their heightened sensitivity to fat and sweetness in foods, super-tasters may be at lower risk of cardiovascular disease while their dislike for the bitterness of flavonoids present in vegetables and fruits may put them at greater risk for colon cancer.

Scientists are just beginning to understand the complex ways in which taste effects diet and as a result, health.