Bitterness preferences and beer

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: March 5th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Choosing a frosty mug of pilsner instead of dark ale may have more to do with genetics than preference. Researchers recently discovered a gene linked to the perception of bitterness, specifically the tart bite found in most beers.

Genes that control taste perception are responsible for most personal food and drink preferences. The distinctive taste of alcohol is a prime example.

In a study described in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, scientists monitored moderate drinkers to assess their preference for five concentrations of bitterness. The research suggests genetics can influence drinking behaviors depending on how a person perceives bitterness.

The term “super-tasters” describes individuals with high sensitivities to bitterness and lower preferences for alcohol. So-called “non-tasters” perceive more sweetness in alcoholic beverages and are usually more frequent drinkers.

Researchers found that study participants genetically predisposed to tasting bitterness drank about half as often during a typical week as those who weren’t as sensitive to bitter tastes.

The study implies practitioners could someday determine the chances an individual will consume excessive amounts of alcohol early in life by measuring if bitter is better. Data suggest the risk of alcoholism is intertwined with taste perceptions and the age at which a person begins to drink.

Ultimately, researchers say people may be less likely to develop a drinking disorder if a negative association is made with alcohol at a young age. That’s a case where souring on the swill may be one bitter pill that isn’t so bad to swallow.