If the thought of drinking a caramel brownie iced coffee or a peppermint mocha latte sounds like a punishment, you may be a coffee snob or, according to a new study, a preference for bitter cups of plain black joe may be genetic.
Likewise, for dark chocolate.
According to the findings of a study led by Marilyn Cornelis, associate professor of preventive medicine and nutrition at Northwestern University, individuals who have a genetic variant that accelerates the metabolization of coffee prefer bitter, black coffee. The same genetic variant is present in individuals who prefer bitter dark chocolate to milk chocolate.
The twist, as Cornelis and her George Washington University co-author Rob van Dam discovered, is that the inclination has nothing to do with taste.
“Because these individuals metabolise caffeine more rapidly, the stimulant effects wear off more quickly as well. As a result, they should increase their drinking,” Cornelis said in a statement.
“Our interpretation is that these individuals mistake the natural bitterness of caffeine for a psychostimulant effect. They develop an association between bitterness and caffeine and the resulting boost. “We are witnessing a learned effect,” she added. “Because they associate caffeine with a bitter taste, they enjoy dark coffee and, similarly, dark chocolate.”
In other words, people have conditioned themselves to forego cream and sugar and overcome an innate aversion to bitter flavours because they believe bitter coffee delivers a stronger buzz.
“Taste preferences and physiological caffeine effects thus appear to become entangled in a way that is difficult for individuals to distinguish,” the study, published in Scientific Reports, stated.
Understanding why people drink black coffee is not merely a marketing tool; it has significant health implications.
Because moderate coffee and dark chocolate consumption has been shown to reduce the risk of developing certain diseases — Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers — identifying genetic markers for specific types of coffee drinkers can help shape public health strategies.
“The health benefits of drinking black coffee versus coffee with cream and sugar are quite different,” Cornelis explained. “A person who desires black coffee is not the same as someone who desires coffee with cream and sugar. As a result, we’re delving deeper into a more precise method of determining the beverage’s and other food’s actual health benefits.”