Pick, Pick, Pick

November 4, 2016


You probably know someone who is or was a picky eater. I am married to one. And so is he. A few years ago, after reading an article I finally understood why. We are supertasters. This may sound like some  outstanding achievement, but really, it’s all about genetics—the number of tastebuds you are born with. I will provide more information later in this post.


It’s not unusual for children to be fussy about food, but I seemed to have an extreme case. Here’s an example. And yes, it will probably lessen your opinion of me.

I was invited to a friend’s house for an overnight when I was about nine years old. I didn’t want to go because of my irrational fear of what I might be served at mealtime. She lived on a farm with baby kittens and puppies, so I decided it would be worth the risk. Naturally, my worst fears came true when we were called to dinner. Her mother handed each of us a big plate of nasty-looking goulash ladled over a slice of white bread. Filled with angst, I followed my friend as we carried our brimming plates to the back porch where we sat down at a little table-and-chair set. My friend ate heartily, while I slowly pushed mine around the plate. As she yammered on about what all the things we would do after lunch, my eyes surreptitiously scanned the room like a hunted criminal looking for a trap door. I spotted the  answer to my problem and quickly formulated a plan.

I gulped down my Kool-Aid and asked if I could have more. She took my glass and went back to the kitchen. I jumped into action, threw open the clothes hamper sitting conveniently behind me, dumped the gooey mess directly on top of their dirty clothes, and slammed down the lid. I was calmly placing my fork on my empty plate when she returned. Magnificent relief flooded over me. Picky eaters have no shame. I would love to say that I was overcome with guilt, but seriously, I chose not to think about it. In recent years, I have had latent guilt pangs. What must her mother have thought when she lifted that hamper lid? To her credit, she never said a word to me or my mom.


Even if you aren’t touchy about food, you probably have been served something you didn’t like when you were eating at someone else’s home. Did you handle it well? Of course you did. (Aren’t we the Little Goody Two Shoes!)

One more short anecdote. When I was little, I asked my Great Grandma Johnson what foods she didn’t like. She replied that she couldn’t think of any; she liked everything. I found this unimaginable! She and Great Grandpa Elias were of sturdy Norwegian stock, and they raised 12 children, so I’m guessing their meals weren’t very exotic. When our children were born, they became part of five living generations. Grandma Johnson was almost 100 when she died.

Great Grandma Anna Johnson in her younger days.


Five generations. Back row: My mom, Leatrice, and me, Tracy. Front row: My Grandma Pearl Danielson, Great Grandma Anna Johnson, and baby Kelly.


You might assume when we humans slide down the chute that we all arrive equipped with the same tastebud inventory. Not so. About one-fourth of all humans have an extremely heightened sense of taste. They are known as “supertasters.” And there are probably several of you who are among the 25 percent who fall into this category.

Note: I am including several paragraphs from a research paper that I presented to another group a few years ago. The paper was about our innate and varying abilities to taste. I enjoyed learning about this topic, and I hope you will find it informative too.

A typical person is born with about 10,000 tastebuds (fungiform papillae) located on the back, sides and tip of the tongue, on the palate, and in the throat.


In 1991, Dr. Linda Bartoshuk (a Yale University pioneer researcher in the study of genetic variation in the ability to taste) coined the word “supertaster” as a way to recognize the 25 percent of the population born with 25,000 or more tastebuds. She assigned the term “medium taster” to the 50 percent of the population having about 10,000 tastebuds. The last 25 percent were named “non-tasters” because they have fewer tastebuds than normal.

How did the doctor determine these three taster categories? She placed small pieces of filter paper saturated with a chemical (phenylthiocarbamide 6-n-propylthiouracil)—otherwise known as PROP—on the tongues of her test subjects. Supertasters reacted instantly and intensely to the bitter taste. Medium tasters took about 10 seconds longer to determine that they tasted a somewhat bitter taste, while non-tasters could not taste anything. (These taster categories only relate to a person’s ability to taste PROP.)

Utilizing PROP is a quick and easy method to determine where our tongues land on the tastebud continuum. Even though there are other primary tastes—such as salt, sweet and sour—this reaction to bitterness is the most accepted and defining factor in determining who has the supertaster gene. (Another method involves placing blue food dye on the tongue and then counting the pink papillae that show through.)


Most of us enjoy eating pizza, but each of us savors it within our own personal tasting realm. Dr. Bartoshuk explains, “Supertasters live in a neon world of taste, while the others live in a pastel world.” Because supertasters have so many tastebuds, they have a much more sensational taste repertoire: Bitter tastes are bitterer; salt is saltier; sour is sharper and sweets sweeter; fat feels fattier; alcohol and chili peppers burn more fiercely. The inside of a non-taster’s mouth is “a very small world compared to the supertaster’s,” she  says.

It would seem that being a supertaster would be an amazing gift, right? Like an acrobat being double-jointed. Not necessarily so. The supertaster’s sensory reactions can be so intensified that many foods are avoided; in fact, they may only desire bland foods. Some frequently disliked foods include: broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, hot chili peppers, strong cheese, grapefruit, dark chocolate, artificial sweeteners, red wine, beer and coffee. If they do drink strong coffee, they often add cream and sugar to cut the bitterness. And they may experience more tingle from carbonated drinks. Dr. Bartoshuk says, “Supertasters are super-feelers and super-pain-perceivers, at least with their tongues.”


Even though supertasters may start out as picky eaters, over time, they learn the phenomenon of “acquired tastes,” demonstrating that the taste sensation is malleable and educable. In other words, the intensely flavored foods they disliked as youngsters may become quite enjoyable as they mature. “Learning can override genetics,” says John E. Hayes, professor of food science at Penn State.

This brings up an interesting debate over whether parents should make children clean their plates. Kids in general are more naturally sensitive to bitter flavors. So, insisting that your supertaster child eat his broccoli may make you a contender for the starring role in the remake of Mommy Dearest. Enforcing the clean-plate rule for these children might be considered cruel. And then there are those moms and dads who brag about their amazing child who adores kale, blue cheese, hot sauce, etc. These parents would likely be surprised to learn that, even though their child may be quite precocious, he or she is probably a non-taster.


Non-tasters and medium tasters should be viewed as the lucky ones because they are often the more adventurous eaters. The bitterness or spiciness of foods is simply not an issue for them. Their fewer numbers of tastebuds have given them the advantage of an expanded food world.

The tongue map is something you may remember from your grade school science class when it was taught that we had four taste sensations located on specific regions of the tongue—bitter in the back, sour on the sides, salty on the front edges and sweet at the tip. The tongue map was debunked in 1974; it is now commonly agreed that the entire tongue can perceive these tastes more or less equally.

The tongue map was debunked in 1974.


For years, there were only the four recognized primary tastes—bitter, sour, salty and sweet—until in recent years when a distinct fifth taste sensation was added. “Umami,” a word meaning “delicious, savory taste,” was identified by a Japanese researcher in the early 1900s, and after further investigation, became the fifth basic taste in 1985. And there is ongoing research that may eventually add “fat” and “metallic” as the sixth and seventh tastes to the primary taste canon.

Of course, the sense of smell is also very much a part of tasting because 80 percent of what we perceive as taste is actually smell. By the way, the olfactory world has its “supersniffers” too. (Unfortunately, there’s not time to delve into all the interesting facts about our sense of smell.)


Interestingly, Dr. Bartoshuk is a non-taster. She says that even though we all dwell in different taste words, “most of the pleasures of eating are conditioned; learned by experience.” In the end, she says it really doesn’t matter what type of taster we are, the human brain will adapt to whatever set of tasting abilities we are born with because it wants to keep those calories coming into our bodies to assure that we will survive. And quite simply, it is just our nature to enjoy the taste of our food to the maximum, no matter what that maximum is.

Do you want to know which type of taster you are? There are several companies at Amazon.com that sell PTC papers so you can find out. I have provided this information in the Last Bites section.


I have come a long way since my goulash-dumping days. I no longer fear food. I savor it! Yes, sometimes I’m served something that I don’t like, but I try to deal with it in a more mature fashion. For example, there’s a quiet minority of us Thanksgiving diners who don’t really care for sweet potatoes to be smothered in a sticky foam of melted marshmallows and brown sugar. We don’t admit it to anyone because we are grownups now. We don’t want to be banished to the “fussy kids” card table, conveniently placed a safe distance away from the really sophisticated adults’ table with the cloth napkins, fancy centerpieces and crystal goblets. To mask our inability to eat well with others, we’ll usually put a tiny no-thank-you helping on our plates. Then we’ll wash it down with a flood of ice water, hoping to prevent those syrupy spuds from wiping out our pancreas (pancreasses?). A few years ago, I created a salad featuring roasted sweet potatoes, which you might want to consider for your Thanksgiving dinner. There may be people like me at your family feast who would be grateful for a less cloying version of those super-sweet sweet potatoes.



I’m including some recipes that you might want to consider for your Thanksgiving menu. Of course I know that you have all the turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy and pumpkin pie aspects of the feast down pat. Sometimes, though, you just want to mix it up a little with a few new recipes that fit in well with the rest of the meal.

This post features recipes for an appetizer, two salads, a side dish, and a dessert.

My friend from gourmet group, Catherine Fitzpatrick, created this appetizer, Boursin-Cheese and Cinnamon-Sugar-Almond Stuffed Dates. They are a tasty treat for hungry guests before the Thanksgiving meal is served, and they are perfect for you too because they can be made ahead of time and they are easy.

Catherine is an amazing cook. She is known for her beautiful and delicious macarons.

Boursin-Cheese and Cinnamon-Sugar-Almond Stuffed Dates


Boursin-Cheese and Cinnamon-Sugar-Almond Stuffed Dates

  • Servings: As many as desired
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 1 (5-ounce) carton Garlic and Herb Boursin cheese
  • 1 package cinnamon sugar almonds (I bought Fisher brand)
  • 1 package pitted dates
  • Thinly sliced prosciutto

Slice open a date. Stuff a teaspoon or less of Boursin cheese into the date. Place an almond into the cheese and squeeze the date back together. Cut the proscuitto into two strips. Wrap a strip around the stuffed date. Place the date seam-side down onto a serving platter. Repeat for as many as are needed.

Recipe from http://www.messycookblog.com

A few years ago when I had some leftover pumpkin purée after making pies, I decided to use it to make a salad dressing. For the salad, I used freshly sliced pears and pomegranate seeds. Pear and Aril Salad with Pumpkin Vinaigrette is a pretty addition to any Thanksgiving or fall meal.


A word about pomegranate seeds, otherwise known as arils. They are best when they have been freshly wrested from their natural pink leathery “purse” designed by Mother Nature. Removing arils can be a tribulation, but who said that good things in life come easy? Nowadays, though, thoughtful companies have come to the rescue by providing the oft aril-less public with an easy way to pluck them—from little plastic containers full of them, purchased at the grocery store. These juicy little seeds are ready to eat, but be warned, they are not quite as delicious as the ones you have to work for.

Pear and Aril Salad with Pumpkin Vinaigrette


Pear and Aril Salad with Pumpkin Vinaigrette

  • Servings: 6 or more
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 1/4 cup canned pumpkin purée
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons apricot jam
  • 1 medium clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 carton baby spinach or baby romaine lettuce
  • 4 pears (any ripe juicy variety), sliced, unpeeled (if Bartlett)
  • Pomegranate seeds (arils)
  • Roasted, salted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese

In a small bowl, whisk together the pumpkin purée, vinegar, apricot jam, garlic, dry mustard, salt and pepper. Add the olive oil in a slow stream, whisking constantly until well blended. Divide the spinach or romaine (or both) among the number of plates desired. Drizzle each with dressing. Channel your inner Rembrandt and artfully fan out the sliced pears (5 or 6 slices per plate). Drizzle a bit more dressing, if desired. Sprinkle with arils and pumpkin seeds. Top with shaved Parmesan.

Recipe from http://www.messycookblog.com

Here is the version of Thanksgiving sweet potatoes that I enjoy. Sans marshmallows and brown sugar. I prefer to roast the sweet potatoes with red onions and rosemary, and toss them with some arugula.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Arugula Salad


Roasted Sweet Potato and Arugula Salad

  • Servings: 8 or more
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

  • 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into approximately 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large red onion, chopped into bite-size chunks
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon, or so, kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider (or juice)
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons honey (to taste)
  • 1 medium garlic clove, pressed or minced
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 large package baby arugula
  • Dried cranberries
  • Roasted, salted sunflower seeds
  • 1 (4-ounce) carton crumbled feta cheese

In a large bowl, toss together the sweet potatoes, red onion, olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Roast at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until crispy brown. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Whisk together the vinegar, apple cider, honey, garlic, salt, pepper, curry and dry mustard. (The roasted sweet potatoes and the dressing can be made the day before, if desired.) When ready to serve, add the arugula and as much dressing as desired to a bowl and toss to coat. Place some arugula on each salad plate. Top with the roasted sweet potatoes and onions. Sprinkle cranberries, sunflower seeds and crumbled feta on top. (May also mix everything together in a large serving bowl for a big gathering.)

Recipe from http://www.messycookblog.com

Usually everyone loves to stick with their traditional side dishes, but just in case you’re looking for more ideas, I’ll include one. I often made plain old roasted broccoli for dinner, but when I found out how my friend Marcie Morrison makes hers, I switched to her method. It is extra delicious. And Bob and I (two reformed picky eaters) can polish off the whole pan of it all by ourselves.

When I asked Marcie for a picture taken in her kitchen, she jokingly sent this. (She was Cruella De Vil for a Halloween party.) The joke’s on her. Here it is! Doesn’t she look sassy and classy?

Roasted Broccoli and Garlic with Parmesan Cheese


Roasted Broccoli and Garlic with Parmesan Cheese

  • Servings: 3 or 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 2 to 3 bunches broccoli
  • 4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced (I use 3 cloves and minced them)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (or a bit more)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (shredded or grated) (I only had shaved Parmesan when I took the photo)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. (My oven is hot enough at 400 degrees.) Cut the stems off the broccoli and leave only the florets. Place broccoli and garlic in large Ziploc bag with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss and mix it around inside the bag. Add more olive oil if necessary. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast 20 minutes or until most of the broccoli has browned tips. Remove from oven; pour lemon juice over all. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Recipe from http://www.messycookblog

Templeton Rye whiskey was originally made in Templeton, Iowa, during the Depression as a way for farmers in Carroll County to supplement their incomes, according to the Templeton, Iowa, website. A rich amber-color, it was considered high quality and became popular in the Chicago, Omaha and Kansas City speakeasies during Prohibition. It was said to be a favorite of mobster, Al Capone. Templeton Rye was revived in 2007, and according to its producer, is “based” on the Prohibition-era recipe. It has been produced in Indiana since its reintroduction; however, it was announced recently that it’s coming back home to Iowa. The company plans to spend $26 million to build two barrel-aging warehouses and a distillery in Templeton, and everything should be up and running by spring 2019.



Here is my recipe for Bread Pudding and Blackberries with Templeton Rye Whiskey Sauce. It’s my salute to the return of Templeton Rye to Iowa. For those who are looking for an alternative to pumpkin pie, give this a try.

Bread Pudding and Blackberries with Templeton Rye Whiskey Sauce


Bread Pudding and Blackberries with Templeton Rye Whiskey Sauce

  • Servings: 8 to 10
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

  • 10 ounces French or Italian bread, cut into 1-inch slices
  • Butter, room temperature
  • 3 1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons good vanilla
  • Fresh blackberries for garnish

Spread a thin layer of butter on one side of each slice. Place bread, buttered side up, on baking sheet at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Cool briefly. Cut slices into approximately 1/2-inch pieces. Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla. Add the bread and stir together gently. Pour into the baking dish. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour or a bit longer, until it looks golden and bubbling.

Templeton Rye Whiskey Sauce

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon good vanilla
  • 1/4 cup Templeton Rye Whiskey
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat, add butter, sugar, salt, and half-and-half. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil 2 minutes and remove from heat. After it cools a bit, stir in vanilla and whiskey (and cinnamon if desired). Allow the bread pudding to cool completely and cover the pan with plastic wrap. When ready to serve, cut into squares. (Can be reheated if desired.) Place the squares on dessert plates or in shallow bowls. Reheat the sauce and ladle generously over each piece. Garnish with 5 or 6 blackberries. (The Templeton Rye can be left out if a simple vanilla sauce is preferred.)


Recipe from http://www.messycookblog.com

Last Bites

This year, before everyone nods off after the Thanksgiving dinner, why don’t you consider entertaining them with an unusual parlor game? “The Taster Test”! With PTC strips, test each person present to see what type of taster they are! (I would recommend that you not tell them ahead of time about the bitter taste reaction that you’re watching for. That way they aren’t influenced by the power of suggestion.) You can explain to them that when they were enjoying their Thanksgiving feast, each person was tasting their food on a different level—within their own realm of tasting abilities. (You’ll have to order the PTC strips ahead of time; they look similar to litmus papers.) And now that you have read this post you can share even more information about this phenomenon to everyone, which could lead to a discussion of each person’s food likes and dislikes. It could be one of your more interesting Thanksgivings. (That doesn’t set the bar very high, does it?)


To order the PTC papers, go to Amazon.com. The photo above shows what a  vial of test papers looks like. The cost is about $7. I ordered this brand—Precision Laboratories (by Nasco). The description says, “Phenylthiourea (PTC) Paper Strips—Genetic Testing (Vial of 100).” There are other brands too.

Note: It was brought to my attention that the photos were missing from several of my earlier blog posts. I have fixed them all (I hope), so if you ever wish to refer back to an earlier post, they should be intact now. (Also, I am aware that the “Print” button doesn’t work on the recipes. I have tried to solve the mystery, but I can’t. So sorry for the inconvenience.)

It’s pear season! This beautiful bowl of pears was spotted on the kitchen counter at the home of my friend Shayla From.

Thank you for visiting the blog. Please come back on November 18 when more Thanksgiving recipe ideas will be featured.—Tracy


5 thoughts on “Pick, Pick, Pick

  1. When I taught biology before I retired, I had the kids test themselves with PTC paper. I can’t taste it so would always demonstrate how harmless it was. The reactions of those who could taste were priceless. The ability to taste it is an inherited genetic trait.


  2. I have to correct my English. “We WERE gone far away. . .” AND love that picture of Great Grandma Johnson when she was young and the 5 generation photo. Beautiful!


  3. Great recipes and educational as well. Shame on you for revealing what you did! Oh well, it was at the home of a large family, and maybe things like that happened all the time. . . I’ve always known you were a Super Taster! You showed early signs of this. I don’t think I am, but there is something about cilantro that sets my tongue on bitter! What does that mean, oh wise one? Thanks for a great READ! I will miss your blog next year! And I loved your last Halloween blog, but we gone far away, and I didn’t get to comment. Keep up the good work!


  4. Pick…pick…pick makes me want to lick…lick…lick every last bite of those delicious looking foods in this week’s message. Well done, my good and faithful blogger!


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