Too Bitter Beers
by Linda D. Pauls
It may be hard to believe but the thought of sipping a beer is near gag-inducing to some people. It's
only fair then to ask why do some people hate the taste of beer? Science has an answer. First off,
it 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.
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.
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.
But what makes bitter flavors hard to swallow for some people? Humans actually evolved bitter taste
receptors for our own safety — to identify poisonous foods that could be harmful. "Bitter taste is
considered a warning system for poisoning," researchers in a recent study published in the journal
Chemosensory Perception concluded. "Many toxic compounds appear to taste bitter; yet, toxicity
seems not to be directly correlated with the taste threshold concentrations of bitter compounds," the
In other words, just because something tastes bitter and makes you wince, that doesn't automatically
mean that beer (or any other bitter food or beverage) is out to kill you.This brings us to the science
behind genetic functional polymorphisms, also known as genetic variations. Since there are so many
taste receptors for bitterness, it's safe to say that bitter flavors — how we perceive them and how much
we can tolerate them — have a plethora of inheritable genetic possibilities.
According to a 2017 study published in the journal Scientific Reports, TAS2R16 alone (which is one of the
25 bitter receptors in the human body) has 17 polymorphisms, including a variant that is associated with
One of the easiest indicators of bitter sensitivity is the number of taste buds you have in your mouth.
The more taste buds you have, the more likely you are to detest hoppy beers. Bitter receptors,
however, are not the only variants at play. The carbonation in beer turns on our "cold" receptors (the
same temperature receptors that make minty gum taste cold and cinnamon taste hot). Cold receptors
have genetic variations too, so while you may not be sensitive to the bitterness of beer, the receptors
that signal coldness might also make beer seem unappealing.
If you're sensitive to the bitterness in beer or other alcohol, there are countermeasures to help "drown
out" the strength of the bitter receptors. Sweet and salty foods can help turn off the effects of the bitter
receptors, which is why we have beer nuts and why we drink tequila with salt!. So now people who don't
like beer because they perceive it as too bitter have a way to drink beer and revel in the flavors
based on an article by Joanna Fantozzi
beernexus.com - SPECIAL REPORT
Why Some Don't Like Beer
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