Study shows people love coffee for the buzz, not taste

Updated May 03, 2019

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In her latest work, Marilyn Cornelis, who has published previously on the genetics of coffee consumption, set out to determine which taste genes are responsible for what we drink, she said. — AFP
In her latest work, Marilyn Cornelis, who has published previously on the genetics of coffee consumption, set out to determine which taste genes are responsible for what we drink, she said. — AFP

WASHINGTON: Fancy yourself a coffee connoisseur with a love for dark roasts? Or maybe hoppy pale ales are more your thing? The truth may be that our preferences for caffeine or alcoholic beverages — or indeed sugary sodas — derive not so much from the way they taste but how they make us feel, according to a new study by genetic scientists at Northwestern University that was published in Human Molecular Genetics on Thursday.

In her latest work, Marilyn Cornelis, who has published previously on the genetics of coffee consumption, set out to determine which taste genes are responsible for what we drink, she said.

But to her and the team’s surprise, people’s preferences weren’t based on variations in taste genes but rather the genes that are related to the beverages’ mind-altering effects. “The genetics underlying our preferences are related to the psychoactive components of these drinks,” said Cornelis. “People like the way coffee and alcohol make them feel. That’s why they drink it.”

“Taste may be a factor,” Cornelis said, but “it’s an acquired taste.” Coffee, because of its bitterness, “is something which we should be avoiding on an evolutionary level,” she said. “But we’re consuming it because we learned to equate the taste with the caffeine effect.”

Sugary beverages are linked to obesity and a variety of related conditions. Alcohol, meanwhile, is related to more than 200 diseases and responsible for about six per cent of global deaths.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2019