I love dark chocolate, like many readers. I stopped liking milk chocolate at some point around ten years old. Why? I developed a preference for the bitter taste, it was around this time when I started to like coffee. Although many people may share these opinions, they are far from universal. Many people like milk chocolate and dark chocolate, or like coffee but dislike all chocolate.
What is the bitter taste?
Taste is a sense that comes from the stimulation of nerves in the tongue. These nerves are set off by different cells that have receptor proteins on the membrane. These proteins We have five basic taste receptors, umami (savory), sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Humans have more receptors in the tongue for bitter than any other of these tastes.
Bitter is usually assumed to be associated with being off-putting, like the smell of batteries or rot. Humans evolved this taste before we were even mammals; flies, sea jellies, and even some bacteria have been found to be able to detect bitterness. Bitter tastes in foods are usually caused by compounds made by plants originally intended to work as a pesticide- they’re toxic in high enough doses.
Genetics affects our perception of all the tastes, some people like different things based on the genes they have. The gene TAS2R38 is the most well-studied gene that codes for a receptor protein that picks up bitter tasting molecules. So someone that has a different version of this gene may be more inclined to like the taste of bitter more than the people with another version of the gene.
Additionally, tastes are also affected by perception through life events or adaption. If you have to get used to a taste through your life, say, people of the Andes who commonly eat a bitter potato species, you are more likely to ‘get used to it’. On the other hand, you may taste something bitter further into your life without having experienced it first, making it less likely to appeal to your palate, like drinking coffee for the first time in your twenties.
So back to chocolate
Dopamine is released when you eat something you like. Whether it’s the taste or texture, you like it, and you’re listening to the chemicals in your brain. Dopamine is considered the pleasure chemical, although some researchers say it is more often released during anticipation rather than the pleasurable act.
The brain contains neurons, between the neurons, are synapses. The synapses are where the receptors and release proteins inhabit. When the neurons receive the signal to release dopamine, receptors take the chemical into their neuron cells where a chain reaction starts. Long story short, you feel good eating it!