Thursday, November 29, 2007

Do Women Have More Taste Buds?

Do women really have more taste buds than men?

I recently made a post, Women & Wine: Once Again, which has garnered some discussion. The post reported that women buy more wine than men, and that women have more taste buds than men. There was some discussion back and forth on these matters. I decided to do some further research on the taste bud issue.

I found that around 1991, Linda Bartoshuk, a professor of otolaryngology and psychology at the Yale School of Medicine, did research on taste sensitivities. She eventually coined the term "supertaster" to refer to those people born with extra taste buds. Flavors are enhanced for these people. For example, some vegetables may taste overly bitter, chili peppers may taste hotter and sugar may taste sweeter. In contrast to the supertasters, there are also "nontasters" who have a diminished number of taste buds and thus cannot detect some flavors. Thus, they prefer the tastes of sweets, alcohol, and fatty foods. Finally, there are the "tasters" who have an average number of taste buds and fall between the two extremes.

It is estimated that about 25% of the population are supertasters, 25% are nontasters and 50% are tasters. For American Caucasians, about 35% of women and only 15% of men are supertasters. Thus, on average, women do have more taste buds than men. Supertasters have at least twice as many taste buds as others.

Interestingly, the number of taste buds varies in different animals. For example, cows have 25,000 taste buds and rabbits 17,000 while human adults have only about 10,000. Mmm...are cows supertasters then? Though they have longer tongues so the amount of taste buds per square inch may be less than humans. But rabbits have comparatively smaller tongues, and more taste buds, so are they the real supertasters?

In humans, the difference in the number of taste buds can vary widely. You could have from 11 to 1,100 taste buds per square inch. On average, supertasters have 425 taste buds per square centimeter on the tips of their tongues, compared to 184 for tasters and 96 for nontasters. The number of taste buds also varies by ethnicity. For examples, Asians seem to have a higher proportion of supertasters.

Another interesting fact is that women tend to be either super­tasters or nontasters, while men tend more often to be regular tasters. Thus, it is a double-edged sword for women.

Age also affects the density of taste buds. Children have the most taste buds and they dull as we age. For example, only about 7% of women 65 and older are super­tasters.

So, to answer the original question: Do women really have more taste buds than men? On average, yes they do. But it is very much an individual issue as well. There are a fair number of female nontasters, probably more than men. Age and ethnicity will also play a role.


Kylee said...

So do nontasters eat more, so as to satisfy their flavor cravings?

Richard A. said...

Hi Kylee:
I am not sure the answer to that one as I did not come across it in my research. I would suspect that they do not eat more in general, instead more often restricting their eating to those items which give them the most flavor.

Kylee said...

That would make sense. Now, another question: I am a very picky eater. Would supertasters be picky? Or would the nontasters be more likely to be picky eaters? If I find something I like, I tend to eat a lot of that thing.