Food & Drink | November 3, 2017 9:00 am

Just How Good Are Your Taste Buds? Here’s How to Tell

People fall within three major categories: nontasters, tasters and supertasters.

Are you a nontaster or supertaster?
Goose Island's 2016 Bourbon County Stout Brand beers, presented during a media tasting event on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

What does it mean to be a supertaster? And how many people can’t really taste anything at all? These answers and more about the science of tasting can be found in a new story by Nautilus.

According to research cited in the article, the ratio of nontasters, tasters, and supertasters in the population is roughly 25 percent, 50 percent, and 25 percent, respectively. Though you may think being a supertaster means you enjoy more food and drink than others, the opposite is true. Nautilus explains that supertasters’ experience tastes more intensely than people in the other categories, and so the effects of different tastes detected by supertasters are amplified relative to nontasters and tasters. Supertasters are usually women, and many people of European descent are not supertasters.

The best way to describe the differences between the categories is to taste-test beer. The Master Brewers Association of the Americas created the American Society of Brewing Chemists flavor wheel to help its members assess the taste of their different brews. The tasting chart was first published in the 1970s with help from the scientific journal Sensory Evaluation Techniques and it is now in its fifth edition. The wheel is very complex and there are more than 100 possible categories of taste, including grapefruit, caramel, farmyard, funky, burnt tire, and even baby sick/diapers. Today, the concept of taste in most classical beers comes from four ingredients. The one most people associate with a beer’s flavor profile is hops, which can give beer its bitter taste.

Supertasters find beer very bitter, so they will avoid drinking hoppy beers like IPAs, and probably won’t really like lagers. Hard liquor would also be a hard pass for supertasters. Meanwhile, nontasters can basically eat or drink anything, so the hoppiness wouldn’t bother them, Nautilus explains. However, they may not be able to tell the difference between different hops used in different beers. Supertasters could easily tell hops apart. So normal tasters are really the only ones who probably enjoy drinking beer for taste.