Ah Stevia. It’s the Coriander of the sweetener world, you either love the calorie free sugar substitute, or you think it tastes like straight up chemicals. But did you know that Stevia and Coriander actually have more in common than just having a whole army of haters behind them?
While some people enjoy a fragrant, herby taste from coriander, others report a soapy monstrosity that ruins any dish it’s added to. There seems to be an overwhelming correlation between coriander haters also experiencing a bitter, chemical flavoured aftertaste when consuming anything with added stevia.
It’s an ongoing debate in my own home, my husband is so moved by his hatred for coriander that he recently ordered a ‘coriander sucks’ t-shirt and can pick (and spit out) a sweetener based drink from a mere sip. I, on the other hand, have no issues with the flavour of either and rely on stevia to satisfy my sweet tooth in a calorie-conscious way, I genuinely can’t tell the difference a lot of the time!
This correlation hasn’t gone unnoticed in the scientific community either, with many studies being conducted into whether it is in fact our genetics that gives us a taste bud predisposition for chemical bitterness vs. a satisfyingly sweet flavour when we consume stevia.
What does the data say?
In a study published in the journal of Chemosensory Perception, 122 participants sampled two types of stevia extract, RebA and RebD. The findings indicated that the perceived bitterness of each sample varied greatly across subjects. Individual taste preferences, a person's sensitivity to sweeteners and unpalatability caused by a bitter aftertaste, have all been widely reported from individuals when trialing stevia. Differing opinions and research based evidence also suggests that variations in taste aversions to a variety of food products may have a genetic basis (Simons et al. 2008).
So how does that work?
The majority of people who don’t enjoy stevia report a bitter taste during consumption, and this sensation is dictated by a persons taste buds. Someone who is overly sensitive to bitter flavours across all food and drink products is known as a 'Supertaster'. Being a Supertaster is a genetic trait, potentially caused by an increased amount of bitter sensing taste buds in some areas of the tongue. 25% of the world's population are considered supertasters and it impacts women at a greater rate than men.
Fun fact, your taste buds only have a life cycle of around 10 days!
The ability for different people to taste particular substances in different ways has been widely accepted and studied for many decades but is still being researched to form conclusions as to why we all experience taste so differently.
According to Meyerhof et al. 2010, hTAS2R4 and hTAS2R14 are the specific taste receptors on the tongue that influence whether we recognise the bitter after taste of steviol glycodes (stevia) or not. This discovery has further fueled the argument that the initial encoding of the genes for these receptors in vitro, does indeed determine how we taste different substances and would of course explain why we are all so wildly different when it comes to the enjoyment of particular foods!
Without going further into all the scientific mumbo jumbo beyond the studies, it has also been shown that other artificial sweeteners interact with taste buds in a similar way to the natural stevia compound. Both are able to be simultaneously detected by the different taste receptors in the mouth responsible for recognising sweet and bitter tastes. This crossover causes the bitter ‘chemical’ taste reported by some, even though stevia is a natural product. This knowledge again leads to the idea that an individual's unique taste buds can cause either the sweet or bitter sensation to outweigh the other, or allow them to be perceived at an equal rate, however further study needs to be undertaken to explain how and why this occurs.
Can it be changed?
Well, yes and no. There are a few different camps of thinking around this and it really just depends on how badly you want to be able to incorporate the taste of stevia into your diet and how much effort you want to make! If you REALLY want to enjoy the taste of stevia you can invest in Hypnotherapy or Neuro-Linguistic Programming, but this is expensive, time-consuming, and generally reserved for people with severe food aversions. Exposure over time, or hiding it in your favourite foods can also slowly improve the acceptance of the stevia flavour but this will vary from person to person. Short answer? If you hate it you hate it, and avoidance or masking the flavour is your best option. Especially now Beforeyouspeak offer all of their blends in an Unsweetened option ;)
Written by Shelley - Advanced Nutrition Coach and Resident Stevia Lover