Bush vs. Broccoli

With review and contributions by ENT doctor Zachary Cappello, MD (SouthPark)

In 1990, then-President George Bush famously said that he didn’t like broccoli and wouldn’t eat it as president. President Bush isn’t the only one. Many people don’t like the vegetable’s bitter taste, while others don’t notice it. As it turns out, they’re not picky eaters, they just detect bitter food differently from others.

How do we taste food?

People experience five different types of taste: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory. Taste buds connected to nerve fibers receive taste sensations. Those, combined with the sensations we receive through our sense of smell, are sent to the brain and translated into what we identify as taste.

How is bitterness defined?

Bitterness is the most sensitive taste sensation. It is described as sharp, disagreeable, or unpleasant. While people often confuse bitterness and sourness, sourness is a measure of a food’s acidity. Common bitter foods and beverages include coffee, unsweetened cocoa, the hops used to make beer, and, of course, broccoli.

The ability to taste bitterness is important because many toxic compounds have a strong bitter taste. Being able to recognize bitterness helps us avoid poisoning ourselves.

Our ability to taste bitterness is genetic. This is why bitter foods taste different to different people, and why some people can tolerate some bitter foods but not others. For example, someone might be fine with grapefruit but find coffee much too bitter. On top of that, as much as 25 percent of the population can’t taste bitter foods at all.

Is bitterness important?

While your ability to taste bitterness might not seem like a big deal, it can affect your health. For example, you would be less likely to detect toxins if you couldn’t taste bitterness. On the other hand, people who are very sensitive to bitterness are less inclined to eat vegetables, like President Bush. This can lead to other health concerns down the road.

And because the senses of smell and taste are so closely linked, your ability to taste bitter foods could be affected if something was wrong with your nose.

Zachary Cappello, MD

“Disorders affecting the nose and sinuses can often lead to aberrations in our sense of smell and taste,” CEENTA ENT doctor Zachary Cappello, MD, said. “If you are noticing a decline in either of these senses it would be a good idea to be evaluated by an ENT doctor to make sure such issues don’t become permanent.”

President Bush’s dislike of broccoli meant his ability to taste bitter foods was particularly powerful. Whether yours is as strong as his or you can’t taste them at all, we want your sense of taste to be as good as possible. If you have any concerns, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a CEENTA doctor today.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. Would you like an appointment with Dr. Cappello? Call 704-295-3000. You can also schedule an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.


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