Our predisposition for bitter taste perception may determine the extent to which we consume alcohol and possibly the extent to which we abuse it. In a study of healthy adults, primarily light to moderate drinkers, scientists measured yearly alcohol intake, density of taste buds (“fungiform papillae”), and the subject’s sensitivity to PROP, a chemical commonly used to distinguish non-tasters from tasters and supertasters.
Scientists then measured each subject’s sensitivity to five different alcohol solutions applied directly to the tongue. What they found was a correlation between the amount of alcohol consumed annually and a subject’s sensitivity to PROP and the direct application of alcohol to the tongue. Supertasters tended to drink the least, followed by medium tasters.
While there are many environmental factors that can contribute to alcoholism, non-tasters may be genetically predisposed to consume more alcohol than their PROP sensitive bar mates. Super-tasters may have an inherent sensory aversion to consuming alcoholic beverages with high levels of ethanol and a pronounced alcohol flavor, which may mean they are at lower risk for alcoholism, but may make lousy drinking buddies.