A few months ago there was some buzz about the idea of being a super taster. It can be defined anatomically as an increased concentration of tastebuds. Some people got really excited about being super tasters, as if tasting things were some sort of super power. When I was sick a few months ago I realized that the whole idea is completely absurd.
Taste relates to those things we all learned about in elementary school – salty, sweet, bitter, sour and arguably a few other sensations. And we’re all taught that most of what we perceive as “taste” is through the sense of smell. But it’s hard to believe until you completely lose or alter that sense. The New Yorker article about Grant Achatz alludes to it, and I experienced it first hand. Having a stuffy nose is pretty much a permanent state of being for me, but it seems that my sense of smell is generally strong enough to overcome that. So when I got really sick there was a period of several days where even though my nose was clear something had occurred that prevented me from being able to smell anything at all. I would eat a cookie and all I could taste was sweet without any of the complexities of that cookie, or it challenged my notion of the taste of a cookie. I would eat a bite of hummus and the garlic would power through, but I mostly tasted acidity and a touch of salt, but not much else. Everything tasted wrong and a lot of times awful.
So super tasting, not so much. Super smelling? Much better. Although the ability to super smell does not guarantee the ability to discern or taste better. It’s about your brain being capable of making out the differences and identifying them. You can train your brain through repeated exposure and build up a sort of olfactory library, much like wine tasters slowly begin to train themselves. But just having super senses does not make anyone naturally better at “tasting.”