A lifetime of taste

A lifetime of taste

Supertaster scientist Linda Bartoshuk honored for decades of research

By Erica A. Hernandez
Linda Bartoshuk

Linda Bartoshuk

UF professor Linda Bartoshuk wants you to taste a better tomato. She wants you to taste the best and most delicious tomato you have ever eaten. And she is working diligently with horticultural sciences professor Harry Klee, Ph.D., to make that elusive tomato a reality. This is just the latest in Bartoshuk’s long career of research.

A graduate of Brown University, Bartoshuk is most famous for her discovery of supertasters. Through her research she found that there are individuals who have more taste buds than most people. These supertasters perceive tastes so intensely that they tend to avoid some foods, like bitter vegetables, which can affect health.

“Basic research in behavioral science is something not appreciated by a lot of people. I think it’s harder and I think it’s beautiful. I love the fact that we study ourselves,” Bartoshuk said.

Bartoshuk is a presidential endowed professor of community dentistry and behavioral science. She is also affiliated with the McKnight Brain Institute’s Center for Smell and Taste.

Bartoshuk has made many discoveries throughout her 54 years of research. She was the first scientist to discover that burning mouth syndrome is the result of damage to the taste buds at the front of the tongue. The condition, which is primarily experienced by postmenopausal women, was previously believed to be a psychosomatic condition.

At the start of 2013, it was announced that Bartoshuk will receive the William James Lifetime Achievement Award for basic research from the Association for Psychological Science.

The William James Lifetime Achievement Award is APS’s highest honor and recognizes researchers whose work has had profound impacts on the field of psychological science over the past quarter century.

“Our board of directors chose Linda and 25 other recipients to receive Lifetime Achievement Awards to coincide with our 25th anniversary celebration. The board felt it was important to recognize 25 of our most outstanding scientists,” said Scott Sleek, APS director of news.

The Association for Psychological Science is a nonprofit organization for the advancement of scientific psychology and its representation at the national and international level. Bartoshuk will be honored at the 25th annual APS convention in Washington, D.C. from May 23-26.

Currently, Bartoshuk is working with Klee at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences on naturally enhancing the taste of different fruits and vegetables. Bartoshuk and her team have identified a group of naturally occurring compounds that enhance the way people perceive sweetness.

“We’ve worked from a genetics and biochemistry point of view on what are the most important compounds in terms of flavor. Linda works on taste and the perception of flavor. We started working with her because she is really a world expert on taste,” Klee said.

They believe that the compounds can be used to make foods taste sweeter while using less sugar and no artificial flavors. So far the group has worked on enhancing strawberries and tomatoes through increased sweet smells.

“This has far more implications for the food industry. We could essentially design foods that are healthier for you,” Klee said.