'I Thought I Was a Fussy Eater, I'm Actually a "Supertaster"'

My mom is Irish and my Dad is Greek and they ran a fish and chip shop in London when I was younger. Food is important in our family, and growing up, no one was a fussy eater except for me. I have always been very selective and my experience of certain flavors has always been very intense.

The taste of fish, even now, is just overwhelming and the textures really put me off. I can't be near seafood and I remember being in the family fish and chip shop thinking: "how can people like fish, but I don't?"

My parents have told me that I was a difficult eater and that they tried lots of different strategies to encourage me to eat different foods. But growing up in the '80s, apparently I lived on sweetcorn, tomato soup and crisps. Looking back, I think I had quite a poor diet.

Often I just wouldn't eat what I had been given. I didn't like it and I wasn't going to force myself. My mom gave me a Greek dish once and I remember that she forced me to eat it all and then I threw up. I guess my parents didn't try that strategy again. When I was younger, there wasn't much emphasis on making mealtimes a fun experience, so that's something I try to do now with my own son.

When I moved to London in my 20s I worked in PR and was writing food reviews. I was going to different restaurants and found myself just eating pasta all the time. I started to realize that I really was selective. Quite often pasta was the only item on the menu I liked and I'd have to look at menus ahead to check if I could actually eat something. I don't eat duck or seafood or certain vegetables, like broccoli, I just find them very overpowering and I don't like the texture.

I was once in Hawaii at a Kālua, where the suckling pig is cooked in an underground oven or "imu." But I picked up the wrong dish and accidentally ate raw tuna. The texture was like jelly and it was so salty and fishy that it overwhelmed me. I can still remember how repulsed I was by it.

But do I eat certain foods, like olives, hummus and garlic. I've always enjoyed other food from different cultures, so it's not that I'm not experimental, I just know very clearly what I do and don't like.

In 2011, I was working in PR for an airline, and we were collaborating with Heston Blumenthal to mentor a chef creating a dish for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. As part of that we travelled to Los Angeles because on a flight, due to the altitude, your ability to perceive sweetness and saltiness changes and airplane foods need to have more intense flavor as a result. We had to go on a flight to experience that.

While we were in LA, Heston took us to one of his favorite restaurants, Bouchon. Thomas Keller, the owner and head chef, personally showed us around the back kitchens and had prepared tiers of seafood with oysters, crab and lobster. It was the most amazing feast.

Sophia Proctor is a "super taster"
After years thinking she was a selective or "fussy" eater, in 2012, Sophia Proctor discovered she was a "super taster." Sophia Proctor

I remember thinking that I didn't want to be rude, but I had to tell Heston that I couldn't eat anything. He was really lovely about it. As we were talking, he mentioned a food festival in London and a taste test where you can find out if you're a supertaster. The idea got stuck in my head.

When I was at the festival in 2013, I found the supertaster testing stations. The test involved trying mystery drinks then putting different litmus papers on your tongue. Most people couldn't taste anything, but I remember I actually screamed. I could taste every flavor, including one that was fish. It was disgusting. It was such a surreal experience realizing that nobody else could taste what I could. It was a real awakening.

The test organizers explained that I was a supertaster. I taste food more intensely and have more tastebuds than a normal person. They told me that it is a gift in some ways, because I can taste when food is rancid and that food itself can be quite an intense culinary experience.

It made me realize why I really dislike fish. If I could taste fish during that test, but nobody else could, my experience of eating actual fish must be so different to everyone else.

It's quite common to be a supertaster. Around 25 percent of the population are supertasters, but perhaps they don't know they are. If people feel like there are certain foods they don't like, and they can sense real bitterness or saltiness, it could well mean they are super tasters too, and it could be why they have certain food aversions or why they are considered fussy eaters. I actually don't like calling it "fussy eating," I prefer "selective eating," because food is a choice. Why would you eat foods you don't enjoy?

Being a supertaster feels normal to me, but I'll go out for a meal with my husband and I can tell if the food is sour or stale. If I go to someone's house I can smell if their milk is rancid. When I was pregnant I could smell KFC across the street when I was inside my car. It's like having a superpower I suppose.

My dad thought it was amazing and said I should be a wine taster, because I know when wine is corked and I can taste if it isn't a good vintage. I haven't pursued anything as a career because of my supertaster abilities yet, but I have tried to reintroduce foods I used to really dislike. I had such an aversion to beetroot and more recently I tried the pickled version—it's really nice.

But it's OK to say you don't like certain foods. You shouldn't be ashamed of it. It's a personal preference. Even to this day, my dad will offer me salmon and I have to tell him that I don't like fish and I don't eat it. If you don't like certain foods, you don't need to be apologetic.

Sophia Procter is the founder and CEO of Munchy Play – the first kids' plate with a built-in track for trains and cars. To find out more, please visit: www.munchyplay.com and follow @munchyplay on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.