With Salt Awareness Week underway, salt consumption in South Africa remains high. Many adults consume more than 9g a day, which is almost double the World Health Organisation’s recommended daily intake of 5g or less.
But there could be an interesting reason for South Africa’s love of salt. Some people may find it harder than others to like low-salt foods, reveals a study by the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences in the USA. Research shows that genetics influence the varying levels of salt we like to consume.
“Most of us like the taste of salt,” said John Hayes, Assistant Professor of food science and lead researcher. “However, some individuals eat more salt, both because they like the taste of saltiness more, and also because it is needed to block other unpleasant tastes in food.
“Super-tasters, people who experience tastes more intensely, consume more salt than non-tasters. The primary flavour of most snacks is saltiness, and for these foods, more is better, so the super-tasters seem to like them more.”
In essence, super-tasters tend to add more salt in their food to cancel out the bitter taste their palate easily picks up.
Put it to the test
There are two ways to see if you are a super-taster.
Buy a a phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) strip, available at most pharmacies, to detect a taste. Test strips treated with PTC may taste bitter, sweet or salty, depending on the chemical and genetic make-up of the taster. If you’re a super-taster, you won’t be able to stand the bitter taste on the strips.
The other way is to dye your tongue blue with food colouring and then stick a hole reinforcer, the white round stickers used to reinforce the holes punched in paper when placing them in a file, on your tongue.
Take a magnifying glass and use it to count the pink bumps within the hole of the sticker. If you have more than 35 pink bumps (papillae), you’re likely to be a bonafide super-taster, anything between 15 and 35 papillae, you are an average taster. Under 15 papillae? You are a non-taster.
I’m a super-taster, now what?
A diet high in sodium can have adverse effect on your overall health and lead to conditions such as high blood pressure.
“Hypertension is the leading cause of disability in adults and the single biggest cause of strokes,” said health firm Pharma Dynamics. “More than 6,3 million South Africans currently suffer from high blood pressure.”
READ MORE: Keeping your blood pressure in check
Spokesperson Nicole Jennings said once people know they are super-tasters, they need to be cautious with their salt intake.
“If you know you’re a super-taster, then you need to be extra careful and guard against too much salt use,” she said.
“We all want our food to taste nice, so super-tasters shouldn’t despair. They can use lemon and other herbs and spices that are healthier than salt to cancel out the bitter taste.”
She said tastebuds can be trained to get used to different tastes.
The one small change all South Africans can make, Jennings said, is to reduce their discretionary salt use, the salt people add to their food once it is on their plate. “Many ready-made foods, sauces and soups already contain a lot of salt,” she added.