If the thought of sipping a beer is gag-inducing, you’re not alone. But even if you’re in good company, it begs the question: Why do some people hate the taste of beer?
The answer comes down to genetics, which influences how our brains process bitter-tasting and cold beverages.
What’s more, it turns out that beer’s bitter taste triggers evolutionary wiring designed to keep us away from potentially dangerous food and drink, and this trigger is stronger in some people than it is in others.
But first, let’s start with beer’s bitter taste. As you may remember from science class, there are five types of taste cells within our taste buds that help us perceive salty, sweet, sour, umami (savory) and bitter flavors. Once the taste buds identify specific flavors, taste receptors send this data via nerves to the brain stem.
“If you think of a receptor as a lock, then whatever it binds to is a specific key,” Dr. Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace, an associate professor emeritus of nutritional sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, told Live Science. “The cell to which that receptor is attached sends a message to the brain to say, ‘Oooh this is bitter!'”
There are a whopping 25 different types of taste receptors for bitterness in the human body. In comparison, there are only two different kinds of salt receptors. Meanwhile, beer’s bitterness largely comes from hops. The alpha and beta acids found in hops, as well as the low concentrations of ethanol in beer, bind to three of these 25 bitter receptors, signaling a strong bitter taste to the brain when you take a sip of lager, Lovelace said.
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