The Science Of The Palate


By: David Sarrett

The Moment:

January, 1974. Virginia Collings, University of Pittsburgh, debunks the taste zones on the tongue!

In the 1900’s, D.P. Hanig was a German scientist who discovered that different zones of the tongue were more sensitive. This was further misinterpreted by Edwin G. Boring from Harvard, when trying to translate the papers. This lead to the classic zones most of us grew up with learning. In 1974, Virginia Collings published a paper debunking those zones.


For a thorough, scientific breakdown of how we taste (perceive) wine, I highly recommended reading “I Taste Red” (or anything) by Jamie Goode.

Let’s dig a little deeper…

Many human traits are determined by a single pair of alleles. An allele is an alternative form of a gene, located at a specific position on a specific chromosome. These DNA codings determine distinct traits that can be passed on from parents to offspring.

There are tons of fun, easy studies you can do for various genetic traits, like tongue rolling, attached earlobes, interlocking fingers, dimpled cheeks, and a widow’s peak, but our favorite is the taste test.

PTC Taste Test

PTC is the most common taste test, and we’re here to tell you that our PTC test paper is absolutely harmless. We would never tell you to put an unsafe test strip in your mouth. But if you still question its safety, you can put your worries at ease here:

PTC tastes bland, bitter or even vile depending on your genes. There is a single gene that codes for a protein found in our tongues. PTC will bind with the protein if it’s present, and you will certainly be able to taste it. However, if the protein is not present, the PTC will not bind and you won’t taste anything.

The ability to taste PTC is a dominant trait, so you’re in the majority if you’ve got it. Congrats to all of you supertasters out there who taste these bitter compounds even more intensely. As for the rest of you, your bitter blindness isn’t debilitating; it just means you can’t taste certain bitter flavors. Supertasters are more likely to find green vegetables bitter. Don’t you wish you had known this as a kid?! “Sorry mom, I’m a supertaster, this broccoli just won’t do.” Oh how different life could’ve been.

A different pair of alleles determines the ability to taste : Sodium Benzoate and Thiourea

Sodium Benzoate so t he taste results are different from PTC. Sodium Benzoate can taste salty, sweet, sour, bitter, or tasteless. Sodium Benzoate test strips can be used in conjunction with PTC to divide PTC tasters and non-tasters into subgroups. 

Thiourea  is another taste test you can perform, and like PTC, it is a bitter compound. The ability to taste PTC and Thiourea are genetically linked because they’re similar chemicals, however, this doesn’t mean you will have the same reaction to both. PTC and Thiourea are not identical, so some people may taste PTC but not Thiourea, or vice versa.

What does it all mean?

So, what does it mean if you’re a taster or a non-taster? Well, we already learned that tasters dislike green veggies a little more than non-tasters. That seems like a given.

Different studies claim to link various traits and habits to tasters and non-tasters. For example, some studies suggest that people who can taste PTC are more likely to be non-smokers, and are less likely to be coffee/tea drinkers. Women, Asians, and African-Americans are more likely to be super-tasters. Other studies suggest that non-tasters are more likely to have certain thyroid problems, while tasters are at a higher risk for heart disease and cancer.

Whether or not these studies are true, it’s great incentive to come up with a study of your own. Taste testing with a diverse group of participants can yield some interesting results, and you can create your own set of conclusions based on your data.