Many people prefer black and strong coffee. And they probably like dark chocolate too, or that’s what research that identifies a genetic basis for those preferences advocates. Is the love of bitter tasting food to be malicious?
If we are part of these tastes, we will have a genetic trait that can offer a boost towards good health. This recent study looks at these genetic determinants of taste and their relationship to bitter foods.
Moderate amounts of coffee are only known to reduce the risk of certain diseases, such as Parkinson’s, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and various types of cancer. But those benefits are likely to be more pronounced if the coffee is free of all the milks, sugars, and other flavorings we tend to add.
A gene for coffee
In previous research, researchers found that a genetic variant may contribute to some people enjoying numerous cups of coffee a day, while others do not. People with the gene metabolize caffeine faster , so the stimulant effects wear off faster and they need to drink more coffee. This could explain why some people seem unfazed by consuming a lot more coffee compared to other people who might get nervous.
In the study mentioned above, scientists analyzed more precise types of coffee drinkers, separating lovers of black coffee from lovers of cream and sugar. They found that coffee drinkers with the genetic variant reflecting faster caffeine metabolism prefer bitter and black coffee . They also found the same genetic variant in people who prefer plain tea to bitter dark chocolate and sweetened to milder milk chocolate.
Bitter foods and alertness
However, scientists do not believe that preference has anything to do with the taste of plain coffee or tea. They think that people with this gene prefer black coffee and tea because they associate the bitter taste with the increased mental alertness they crave with caffeine. ” Our interpretation is that these people equate the natural bitterness of caffeine with a psychostimulatory effect, ” said the study author. ” They learn to associate bitterness with caffeine and the urge they feel. We are seeing a learned effect .”
The same applies to the preference of dark chocolate over milk chocolate. ” When they think of caffeine, they think of a bitter taste, so they also enjoy dark chocolate ,” they comment. ” It is possible that these people are very sensitive to the effects of caffeine and that they also have that behavior learned with other bitter foods .”
Dark chocolate contains some caffeine, but much more of a compound called theobromine, a known nervous system stimulant related to caffeine. But more is not better when it comes to theobromine, according to studies: Higher doses can increase heart rate and alter mood.
Dark chocolate also contains a high amount of calories, so keeping consumption low is good for your health if you are sedentary. Still, studies find that even a small bite of dark chocolate a day can contribute to heart health and lower the risk of diabetes. This is probably because cocoa contains a large amount of flavanols, epicatechin, and catechin, antioxidant compounds known to improve blood flow. Other foods that contain flavanols include green, oolong, and black teas; Red wine; kale; onions; berries; citrus and soy.