Coffee is Bitter and Horrible-Why Do We Like It?

A group of scientists now believe they know why some humans prefer coffee while others opt for tea

A group of scientists now believe they know why some humans prefer coffee while others opt for tea

So why is coffee-a bitter-tasting drink-so popular around the world?

We all have a preferred hot drink, with some of us preferring a warm mug of tea while others are black coffee all the way. Bitterness is something we tend to avoid because our bodies are essentially warning us that what we're ingesting might be poisonous or otherwise harmful.

The paper explains that individuals who are genetically more sensitive to the bitter taste of caffeine actually end up liking coffee more than those who aren't.

"We are now looking to expand the study to evaluate if bitter taste genes have implications on disease risks, and we'll try to also explore the genetic basis of other taste profiles such as sweet and salty".

Ong added the findings for tea might be down to tea containing lower concentrations of bitter substances, meaning it might prove more acceptable than coffee to those with heightened perception of bitterness. Even more so than coffee, these PROP- and quinine-sensitive people were much less likely to consume red wine than those less attune to those flavors.

"You'd expect that people who are particularly sensitive to the bitter taste of caffeine would drink less coffee", said Marilyn Cornelis, assistant professor of preventative medicine at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine.

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"While the effect of perception on your daily coffee intake might be relatively small - only a 0.15 cup per day increase - from a normal caffeine taster to a strong caffeine taster, it actually makes you 20% more likely to become a heavy drinker - drinking more than four cups per day", said Jue Sheng Ong, first author of the research from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Australia. This data was gleaned from the habits of over 400,000 people who submitted samples to the UK Biobank and shows that those classified as heavy coffee drinkers are particularly sensitive to caffeine's bitter taste.

How could this be? The association with the stimulant is enough to over-ride an adaptive aversion to the taste.

"The findings suggest our perception of bitter tastes, informed by our genetics, contributes to the preference for coffee, tea and alcohol", Cornelis said. Our tastes can and indeed likely will change over our lifetime.

Dr Marilyn Cornelis, co-author of the research from Northwestern University in IL, said: "The study adds to our understanding of factors determining beverage preferences - taste, in particular - and why, holding all other factors constant, we still see marked between-person differences in beverage preference as well as the amount we consume". "I guess you can say it's one of many factors and there's a genetic component to it".

There's also a subset of people called caffeine "super tasters", who have extra copies of the caffeine gene.

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