Reader Lee brings up a fascinating topic:
There is one question I’ve been curious about: How much variability is there between humans in the capacity to taste? I always say I have a “weak palate,” certainly compared to my sister, who can pick out, and then name, subtle flavors and spices in a dish, tastes that I am only dimly aware of. It shouldn’t surprise us that people might have stronger or weaker taste buds; vision skills, after all, vary from person to person. But what do scientists have to say on this topic?
Nice to hear from you again, Reader Lee! The influence of genetics on the taste sensation is well documented. Since the 1930’s it’s been known that genetics largely determines an individual’s ability to taste a chemical compound called PTC (phenylthiocarbamide). For those with the right configuration on proteins in their taste buds, PTC tastes extremely bitter. For those without it, it can taste like nothing at all. The discovery was made when a researcher by the name of Arthur Fox accidentally kicked up a cloud of the stuff in a lab. Some people present tasted it, others didn’t.
Further experimentation revealed a clear genetic link: different populations of humans were senstive to PTC to varying degrees. On the high end of the spectrum were Native Americans, 98% of whom can detect PTC. At the low end were aboriginal Australians and New Zealanders, a mere 58% percent of whom can taste it.
As to why there’s so much variability between those groups no one can say definitively. However it’s been theorized that the ability to detect bitterness has an evolutionary advantage. Many plant poisons are toxic alkaloids, and alkalines generally taste quite bitter. So, maybe there are more potential opportunities to die from random plant poisoning in North America. Someone might want to do a study on that.
But to return to your actual question, Reader Lee, there can be quite a bit of variability in ability to taste things, even between siblings. That variability can range up to about 20%, not including the extra advantage so-called “super tasters” have. I’ll talk more about them later. However it’s thought that women are more sensitive to taste than men in general, so the disparity you’re experiencing may have less to do with subtle genetic variations than the plain fact that you’re a man.