Even as a full-blown adult, I’m always amazed when people guzzle down plain black coffee in all its bitter glory without adding anything into it to make it taste less, well, aggressive. (Whether or not those people are psychopaths, though, remains up for debate.) Over the years, I’ve tried taking a sip just to see if things have changed, and it always results in a puckered-up face that looks like I downed a glass of lemon juice or a shot of mezcal. And evidently, there’s a simple explanation why: I’m not a genetic “super-taster” like other effortlessly cool coffee drinkers of the world.
In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers found that your genes play a big role in how bitter flavors are experienced, and that’s exactly why some people love coffee and others can’t deal. After comparing preferences for coffee or tea of more than 400,000 participants ages 37 to 73—and noting whether they carried bitter taste receptor genes or not—it became clear those who do carry bitter taste receptors for caffeine tended to be bigger coffee drinkers than the average, well, Joe. And I mean serious fanatics: They gulped down more than four cups every day and enjoyed the taste while they were doing it.
According to the researchers, every copy of the bitter taste receptor gene someone had upped their chances of being a big coffee drinker by 20 percent—and because of their ability to enjoy the bitterness, they were dubbed “super-tasters” of caffeine. On the other hand, those who carried the bitter taste receptors for quinine or propylthiouracil (PROP) tended to be heavy tea drinkers instead, due to being more sensitive to bitter tastes.
Every copy of the bitter taste receptor gene someone had upped their chances of being a big coffee drinker by 20 percent—and because of their ability to enjoy the bitterness, they’re dubbed “super-tasters” of caffeine.
And despite what the study found, there’s still hope for me to become a coffee drinker down the line: “Even if as a child or right now you dislike the bitterness of coffee, you may have noticed that your taste and dietary behavior changes over time as you grow,” writes study author Daniel Liang-Dar Hwang, PhD, for The Conversation. “So, even if you carried the ‘wrong’ genes in terms of tasting bitter flavors, you could still learn to enjoy deliciously bitter-tasting foods and beverages.”
It’s safe to say you won’t find me with a cup of plain black brew in my hand anytime soon, though.
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