Saturday, January 28, 2012

Super tasters versus non-tasters

To be filed under:
Yet another reason that I'm fat

Back in 9th grade biology (an interesting class that I partially discussed under Hamster Husbandry and  will in the future, discuss the strange introduction to Sex Ed I received there), we were introduced to genetics in part by examining our own traits and comparing them to our parents' and siblings'. (This must be done very carefully these days, if at all, due to privacy concerns). Traits discussed: blood groups, tallness, hair and eye color, tongue rolling abilities, relative finger lengths and whether we could taste a bitter chemical, PTU, or not.

Only 30% of those with Northern European ancestry are non-tasters ( being a non-taster is even rarer amongst other groups). It is an autosomal recessive trait (though men seem to express it more). If you have this trait, the shorthand  is tt.

tt=no ability to taste this substance and chemically related compounds
Tt=can taste this in the 'usual' concentration
TT=super taster. Can detect this substance in even the most dilute concentrations

With gene sequencing, now you don't even have to ask if one is a taster, it is an easy lab test.

So who cares if you can roll your tongue or not (I can) or taste this stuff (I can't)?

Well for starters, when I first came down with Graves' Disease (or at least when I was finally treated), I was given PTU to block the excess hormone that my strange antibodies were stimulating my thyroid to produce. I could not taste the stuff; others would complain how absolutely nasty it was. But more importantly the gene that controls this trait is also associated with taste bud density, taste in general, thyroid disease, smoking and coffee drinking preferences, and fat seeking in foods. Apparently we non-tasters love our fat more than the Tts and the TTs of the world and it shows.

On a somewhat related note, there was an interesting article today in the WSJ about how different cultures perceive others' taste in food disgusting or not notably in what fermented foods a given people will love. The assumption in this article was that taste is culturally determined.

Rotted ungulate bodily fluid anyone?

Yeah, that would be cheese, sometimes covered with obvious mold. We Westerners eat this with relish though we may be divided on the stinkiness we will tolerate. According to this article, many Asians find cheese absolutely disgusting, even the bland "American" cheese that Naomi requested in a Canadian restaurant (the waitress thought she would only eat cheese that was produced in the US and found her request odd and insulting.). The Sardinians push the envelope with their casu marzu, a sheep cheese that is riddled with live maggots. If the maggots have died, it is considered unsafe to eat.

Only Icelanders could tolerate their fermented shark festering in pits for 5 months.
The Japanese eat a fermented soybean dish known as natto for breakfast, which even the most adventurous westerner gags on upon tasting.

So I have no taste. My poor victims last night of my cooking; poorer as I usually cook only by taste. I try to make new things each time although I made my teri-yaki grilled scallops before (who doesn't love scallops? So tasty and quick to prepare. Downside: these suckers cost a lot). I served them over a pseudo-Asian salad of baby spinach leaves and a transparent, mung bean noodle. No I didn't forget to pluralize the word noodle. It turned out that what I had cooked was one, long hundred foot noodle making it impossible to toss amongst the greens. Lesson learned: break the mass up before cooking. It did taste good, if I say so myself, but as I have no taste, that would be suspect. I made coconut rice. I also served these things I didn't make but purchased from the new, huge Asian section of our local grocery store that serves the large local Asian population in our neck of the woods : seaweed sesame salad and steamed leek and mushroom buns.

But perhaps their tastes were blunted by the many bottles of wine consumed late into the night (and next day). It was fun as always. Love the Moms.

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