India Pale Ale is America’s most popular style of craft beer, but if you can’t stomach the hop-heavy brew, it could be because you taste bitterness more intensely than everyone else. According to NPR, some people have a taste receptor gene called TAS2R38 that makes them more sensitive to bitter tastes.
The experience of bitterness is caused by compounds in food binding to receptors in your mouth; the stronger the bond, the more bitterness you taste. And the receptor gene TAS2R38—which is found in roughly a quarter of the population—happens to create very strong bonds.
The University of Connecticut conducted a study a few years ago to see if people with that gene were less likely to eat bitter foods like kale or Brussels sprouts than people without it. The result was startling: Bitter-sensitive folks had around 200 less servings of vegetables per year.
Photo: Flickr/ Chiot’s Run
Researcher Valerie Duffy told NPR that, instead of just skipping the bitter plants, people with TAS2R38 steered away from veggies altogether. “What we think [is that] if somebody finds some vegetables too bitter, they sort of generalize to all green vegetables.”
However, Duffy points out that there are other factors that influence your tastes in food and drink, both physiological and environmental. The way your parents raised you can influence your eating habits, and apparently so can the prevalence and trendiness of something like hoppy beer.
Photo: Harpoon Brewery
CNBC reports that IPA is “the fastest-growing and best-selling style of craft beer,” but 20 years ago few people drank it. Beers that were once considered extreme, such Harpoon Brewery’s IPA and Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale, are now thought of as normal as people’s tastes have adapted towards bitterness.
So the good news is that, with time, TAS2R38 carriers might be able to come around to hoppy beers. But the bad news is brewers just keep making them more and more bitter. As The Economist puts it: “The passion for hops in American craft beers has taken on the characteristics of an arms race, as brewers try to outdo each other in hoppiness.”