Individual variations in genes determine the flavors receptors (bitter, sweet, sour, bitter and “umami”) influence taste sensitivity of each person and may, according to Gasparini, influence their diet. It is precisely this relationship between genetics and diet which is considering his team. They research whether the sensitivity to different flavors go together and try to identify different diet profiles.
According to Gasparini our sensitivity to bitter makes us “non-tasters (they do not appreciate the bitter taste) in medium-tasters (they appreciate it moderately) and super-tasters (they are so sensitive to bitter taste that they cannot eat nothing bitter). Join one of these categories affects our diet and, therefore, our health. Super-taster avoids bitter-tasting meals. They don’t like dark chocolate, strong beer, cauliflower and many other vegetables. This factor can influence the prevention of cancer. “On the other hand, non-taster eats everything and has preferences for fats: they put more oil to salads, sauces use more … “In the long term, especially in women, a non-taster ends up with obesity problems,” said the Italian researcher.
“Non-tasters like spicy food, it seems, they are more willing to try new flavors, ethnic dishes … while, on the contrary, the super-tasters do not support the spicy and always try to eat the same foods. That’s why in Europe only between 30 and 35% of individuals are non-tasters, but in India this percentage is above 50%.”
Paolo Gasparini has collected phenotypic and genotypic samples from more than 3,000 individuals in isolated populations of various Italian places to learn more about the genetics of taste. He has also participated in the project Marco Polo 2010 in what has been sampled in several villages along the so-called Silk Road to learn more about the genetic diversity of geographical areas.
In addition to the therapeutic applications that may have the genetics of taste at the time of preparation of diets to avoid obesity or preventing cancer, this knowledge can be very interesting for the food industry. According to Gasparini, foods are divided into different groups. If a person likes a determinate food, he likes all foods of the same group. So it can be useful in designing new food combinations. It will also make easier to decide which products enter a new market.
Although Gasparini recognizes that there are many factors that influence taste such as smell receptors, or cultural factors such as the way our mother’s kitchen or personality and learning, believes that knowledge of the genetics of taste can help us better to understand some behaviors such as “why a mother may have problems when her child goes to feed breast milk (sweet) to other foods (bitter). Pediatricians say it’s an emotional issue but it could be that the baby was genetically super-taster. ”
About Paolo Gasparini
Dr. Paolo Gasparini is specialised in Hematology and Medical Genetics, Professor of Medical Genetics at the University Of Trieste, Italy, responsible for the Medical Genetics at Children’s at Hospital Burlo Garofalo (Trieste) and Member of External Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) of IDIBELL. He has been involved in mapping and cloning disease genes associated for inherited human diseases and he has contributed to the identification of several diseases including Cataract Syndrome, several forms of inherited Deafness, or Leigh disease among others