Friday, February 22, 2008

Food Finds: Supertaster?

By Pat Tanner

It seemed like a good idea at first, but when the day came to be tested I had serious misgivings. I had met Dr. Beverly Tepper, director of Rutgers' Sensory Evaluation Lab, through friends, and when I learned that her area of research involved taste perception, I thought it only natural – fun even - to offer up myself as a test subject. And to subsequently report on where I fall on a scientific scale that measures, in effect, the sensitivity of one’s taste buds.

But as the appointed hour approached, I began to fret. Where would I test out along the spectrum of supertasters, tasters, and nontasters? What if I, a food writer and restaurant critic, had to confess to being a nontaster? Not a smart move.

Tepper uses a compound called PROP to measure the ability to taste bitterness. It turns out that perception of bitterness is a genetically based indication of how sensitive a person is to a whole range of tastes, including sweet, fat, and spiciness. Research indicates that supertasters – those whose sensitivity to bitter is highest – also have more taste buds.

So supertaster is what I wanted to be, or so I thought. Supertasters, it turns out, typically dislike a lot of foods, in part because they experience them so intensely. A typical supertaster dislikes the bitterness of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, and dishes with hot chilies. Hmm…not the best qualifications for a food critic.

Where people fall depends on their response when a piece of paper embedded with the PROP compound is placed on their tongues. Supertasters experience an overwhelmingly unpleasant, acrid sensation. Tasters detect some bitterness, but not to the same get-this-abomination-off-my-tongue degree. Nontasters wonder what all the fuss is about, since they detect nothing at all.

Tepper says that research has consistently shown that 25% of Caucasians are nontasters, 50% are tasters, and the remaining 25% are supertasters. “Other ethnic groups have different breakdowns,” she says. “The split around the world is quite different.”

Learning all this did little to ease my tension as I walked into her lab. She tried to reassure me by saying, “If you are a nontaster, it’s OK. Being a taster - or not - has no bearing on flavor detection,” since, as she pointed out, the majority of flavors we perceive come through the aromas our noses pick up.

It took just a few moments in the testing booth before I got the (wait for it) bitter results. I am, in fact, a supertaster.

Tepper can explain this apparent contradiction. “I have come to realize that supertasters fall into two behavioral categories: those who are adventurous eaters and those who are not.” Well, I am nothing if not adventurous. (Oatmeal-toasted mealy worms, anyone?). My own theory is that adventurous supertasters probably enjoy the intensity – the frisson – of pushing the limits of their sensitive taste buds. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Want to know if you’re a supertaster? A kit, containing two tests per order, is available commercially for $4.95 at:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Book Beat: Lisa Scottoline's Lady Killer

By Kimberly Baldwin

Between teaching Justice and Fiction at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, appearing in Court TV's crime series,
Murder by the Book, and writing a weekly column called "Chick Wit" for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Lisa Scottoline has found time to be a New York Times bestselling author of fourteen novels.

Her latest, Lady Killer, features Philadelphia attorney Mary DiNunzio -- the trademark Lisa Scottoline heroine with strength, smarts, and plenty of attitude who first appeared in Killer Smile. In this novel, Mary is plunged into a nightmare -- one that threatens her job, her family, and even her life -- as she goes on a one-woman crusade to unmask the killer of her high school rival. Lady Killer can be best described as Grey's Anatomy for the page; a compelling story line laced over ever-evolving friendships, relationships, and coming to terms with one's self. Read an excerpt from Lady Killer here.

Meet the author at the Freehold Barnes & Noble (3981 US Highway 9) tonight at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fashion Forward: Get Your Flat On

By Leigh Boriskin

Nothing feels like spring more than bright, bold, and fresh-looking accessories. And although the lovely ballet flat has been hitting the style scene with vengeance, this year's crop leans toward eye-popping hues that scream sunshine!

Bloomingdale's has stocked a slew of chic flats including BCBG's Carmen, an adorbale, woven patent leather, accessorized with a burgeoning flower; the essential slip-on is updated in juicy shades, as seen in the Reva by Tory Burch; and Via Spiga's sweet and sassy perforated Monica that keeps its elegance with a pointed toe and silver hardware.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

New and Noteworthy: Prom time!

By Kathy Shaskan

Every girl knows that the dress is 'way more important than the guy' when it comes to enjoying your prom. Pick well and you'll feel like a star all night. Choose poorly and you'll spend the evening tugging on your hem, adjusting your straps and slinking off to a corner. To make the search for that one perfect frock easier,
Gotham City Clothing in Millburn has opened a new dress lounge for girls. All pretty and pink, it's filled with the latest dresses, plus bags, shoes, and jewelry.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Monday Muse: Frida Kahlo at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

By Kimberly Baldwin

Organized in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the artist's birth, Frida Kahlo is the first major Kahlo exhibition in the United States in nearly fifteen years. This exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art presents over 40 of the artist's most important self-portraits, still lifes, and portraits from the beginning of her career in 1926 until her death in 1954.

Rendered in vivid colors and realistic detail, Kahlo's jewel-like paintings are filled with complex symbolism, often relating to specific incidents in her life. In her iconic self-portraits the artist continually reinvented herself. Paintings like The Two Kahlos (1939, shown above) demonstrate her penchant for self-examination, and works like Henry Ford Hospital (1932) and The Broken Column (1944) express her struggles with illness throughout her life.

The exhibition opens February 20 and runs through May 18, 2008. Tickets for this exhibit are issued for a specific date and time, and include an audio tour. Buy online anytime or by phone 215.235.7469, 7 days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m

Philadelphia Museum of Art
26th St. and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA