People Sensitive to the Bitterness of Caffeine Tend to Drink More Coffee

A genetic analysis revealed that those who are highly sensitive to the stimulant’s distinct taste are likely to drink more than four cups a day.

By Megan Falk
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Coffee lovers who prefer the bitter taste of black coffee over brews masked with cream and sugar may not have psychopathic personality traits, as previous research has suggested, but they could be hooked on the taste of caffeine.

A new study, published in Scientific Reports on November 15, analyzed the genetic markers of more than 400,000 Brits to determine their sensitivity to the bitterness of caffeine, quinine — a bitter compound found in tonic water — and propylthiouracil, a synthetic taste similar to the compounds in cruciferous vegetables, and then compared it to their daily coffee consumption. The researchers found that participants who were more sensitive to the biting flavor of quinine and propylthiouracil reported drinking less coffee than those who were not as sensitive — a negative relationship that could be caused by humans’ innate distaste for bitterness, which prevents us from eating poisonous foods. On the flip side, those who had a greater sensitivity toward the bitterness of caffeine reported an increased java consumption.

“You’d expect that people who are particularly sensitive to the bitter taste of caffeine would drink less coffee,” says Marilyn Cornelis, an assistant professor at Northwestern University and author of the study.

A probable cause? Caffeine dependency. Those who have an enhanced ability to pick up on the bitterness of caffeine may learn to associate the stimulant’s distinct flavor with the much-needed pick-me-up it provides, a possibility that was seen in the study; coffee drinkers who had a higher perception of caffeine were more likely to consume at least four cups of Joe each day. According to experts, regularly drinking any more than that could put you at risk of irritability, sleep disruption, and headaches. If you feel uneasy when you can’t get your hands on a caffeine fix or you face these side effects day in and day out, take it as a sign to break up with your go-to café and swap your morning mocha for a smoothie.

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Article written by Megan Falk