A Matter of Taste?
The range & types of food we eat is truly staggering. Our pantries & refrigerators are full of foods that our pets & other animals can’t, don’t or won’t eat. We evolved from eating small prey or scavenging our protein & gathering what fruits & berries we could to become the ultimate omnivores we are today.
From this has grown a vast food industry that seeks people with finely tuned taste buds and can identify foods that stand out above the others.
On the Tips of our Tongues
Our tongues have specialized receptors for determining the components that make up complex tastes. It is believed that the density of these receptors is directly proportional to our sensitivity to taste.
Phenylthiocarbamide, more commonly abbreviated as PTC has long been used to test for taste sensitivity. Genetics labs have used it for over 50 years & it has become a popular tool to find the supertasters among us. These are people who can discern the subtlest of differences in foods and whose keen senses are called upon to recommend the best ones for commercialization.
PTC evokes a very strong response in some people with its very bitter taste. Others only partially sense it and some not at all. This trait may have developed as a means of detecting foods that could be harmful either because they are poisonous or rotten.
Good Food vs Dog Food?
One aspect of taste sensitivity is particularly interesting. How Good is Your Dog’s Sense of Taste, written by retired professor & avowed dog lover, Stanley Coren, points out that humans typically have 9000 taste buds compared to a dog’s 1700 & a cat’s 470. This immense difference would seem to suggest we have moved past the basic need of recognizing bad food to valuing the degree we enjoy it.
An intriguing aspect is how our sense of smell fits in. We’ve all salivated over the aroma of our favourite foods & been dismayed how tasteless it is when we have stuffed noses due to head colds. Since dogs are renowned for their vastly superior olfactory abilities, it begs the question of which truly enjoys their food more.
Fun Science for Everyone
If you are homeschooling, doing a science fair project or may be a food or wine critic in waiting, test your sensitivities with our supertaster test strip combination pack.
Or, if you want to build a model of phenylthiocarbamide (PTC), just enter the compound on our 3D Molecular Model Builder page.