With this week marking the end of my time studying abroad, I look back on all that I’ve experienced and know that I will truly miss being in Paris. Maybe it’s the people I’ve meet, or the sights I’ve seen, or just all the amazing food I’ve had, but I really can’t put my finger on why I’ll miss this place.
Speaking of food, I’ve gotten into the habit of trying a different pastry at lunch each day! While definitely not a healthy practice that I should keep up when back at home, I’ve gotten to taste some really good sweets!
Because of my minimal French speaking skills, I choose my pastries simply by pointing to one at random. This technique works fairly well for the most part because I usually end up with a delicious pastry in my stomach! However, the other week at Blé Sucré, I chose one that tasted awful. I think I got a rum cake, but I honestly can’t be too sure since I didn’t bother to read the description (I probably wouldn’t have understood it anyways). Interestingly, while I thought it was absolutely atrocious and extremely bitter, others thought it didn’t taste that bad. At the time, I couldn’t understand why they thought it tasted any good, so I decided to do some research.
Surprisingly, a great amount of information exists on individual differences in food preferences. In a recent study conducted with 305 participants, the researchers concluded that genetics play a large role in bitter food taste preference (Negri et al., 2012). In this study, the researchers collected a sample of each participant’s saliva to determine their genetic code for the TAS2R38 gene, a DNA sequence responsible for creating a specific bitter receptor that recognizes a chemical called 6-propyl-2-tiouracil (PROP). The DNA sequence of this gene can vary to cause an individual to be considered as a non-taster, medium taster, or super taster. Basically, an individual could not taste the bitterness of PROP, could taste the bitterness, or could taste the bitterness and thought it was extremely disgusting.
After the DNA genotyping, the researchers gave the participants a small amount of PROP to taste and asked them to rank the amount of bitterness that they experienced on a scale of 1 (no taste) to 4 (very unpleasant). The participants then answered a questionnaire about the specific foods that they ate in the past three days. The researchers instructed them to focus on any bitter vegetables they consumed. With some statistical analysis tests, Negri et al. found that individuals with increased PROP sensitivity tend to avoid bitter foods and therefore have a lower consumption of these types of food in their daily routine. Applying this conclusion to my situation, I guess this means that I’m a supertaster! I’m not sure if this difference in preference has any other implications, but I think that would be a great next experiment to look into!
This study definitely helped clear my confusion about how my friends could possibly think that my rum cake tasted any good, however, I did find that it contained a couple weaknesses. Negri et al. recruited their participants through convenience sampling, where they asked people in their clinic or in a nearby university if they wanted to participate, instead of conducting a random sample. Using this type of sampling method may lead to an unrepresentative sample of the population and therefore yield results that may not be applicable to their population of interest. Additionally, I personally find it difficult to recall everything I ate in the last three days, so I believe that the participants may have found it difficult too. This problem may result in a response bias that could impact the integrity of the results as the participants could have just listed down some of the foods that the researchers included in the questionnaire instead of actually trying to remember what they ate. Despite these shortcomings, this study uses good experimental controls and provides an excellent explanation of their methods to the point where I could most likely replicate their experiments!
While I doubt I would spend the rest of my time in Paris trying to reproduce this study, I have learned a valuable lesson: when in Paris, don’t be fooled by those tasty looking cakes.
Negri R, Di Feola M, Di Domenico S, Scala MG, Artesi G, Valente S, Smarrazzo A, Turco F, Morini G, Greco L (2012) Taste perception and food choices. Journal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition 54:624-629.