How Genetics Affects the Taste of Tea

How Genetics Affects the Taste of Tea

LatelyI’ve become interested in the sensory science behind how we experience the tea we drink. One of the sparks that started this journey was reading Three Basic Teas and How to Enjoy Them by Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace MD. It surprised me to learn that part of how we experience tea is determined by genetics.

That started me on a dizzying path of researching whatever I could. Studies specific to tea were a bit hard to find but I was able to find quite a bit of similar research about wine. I was so curious to know what my own sensory genetics might be. As luck would have it, my mother gifted me an Ancestry DNA testing kit for my birthday.

When the results arrived, I wasn’t a bit surprised to learn that I am 98% Irish. Ancestry also included some general information about taste in their list of traits. Downloading my raw data allowed me to see exactly which alleles I have for certain genes.

It is important to keep in mind that there are many things that affect our senses of taste and smell. Genetics is simply one of them. We have the wonderful ability to train and improve our senses. Looking at this kind of information is simply for a bit of nerdy fun. Don’t let it ruin your enjoyment of tea!


Bitter DNA result
My Ancestry result for bitterness sensitivity

Bitter

The Ancestry test focused on three genetic markers that are responsible for the taste receptor TAS2R38. The genotypes for this receptor influence our ability to taste phenylthiocarbamide (PTC).

My results:

RS713598 – CC

RS1726866 – AA

RS10246939 – TT

RS2708377 – TT

RS227433 – AC

According to the genetics I am not sensitive to bitterness. I enjoy bitter things that many people do not, such as very dark chocolate, so that does make sense. I am going to try to find some PTC paper tester strips in order to gauge my level of sensitivity.


Sweet DNA results
Umami DNA results

Sweet and Umami

I was surprised to read that I was sensitive to sweet but not to umami. The TAS1R gene family encodes receptors for both tastes. This one was a bit complicated as there many substances that can cause us to taste sweet. The number of genes involved is dizzying. I tweeted Ancestry to ask which markers they looked at but they have yet to reply. These are my best guess as to which genes that they may have tested for:

My results:

RS3845293 – CC

RS1421085 – TC

RS838133 – AA


Pink rose

OR5A1 – β-ionone

β-ionone is a significant contributor to the floral aroma of roses and violets. It is also found in both tea and wine. Those that are insensitive, like me, might smell nothing at all. In Virgina’s book, she mentioned that people who are insensitive will sometimes prefer apple juice with β-ionone added even though we can’t smell or taste it. My genetic result suggests that I might not be able to smell β-ionone.

My results:

RS6591536 – AA


Green grass

OR2J3 – Leaf Alcohol

Our OR2J3 gene controls the taste receptor for cis-3-hexen-1-ol (C3HEX). Those that can smell it usually describe a green, grassy aroma. It is released by wounded plants including cut grass (and freshly picked tea leaves). Based on the genetics, it looks like I am somewhat sensitive to C3HEX.

My results:

RS7766902 – TG


Matcha green tea

Caffeine

This doesn’t have much to do with taste but how our bodies handle the caffeine in tea is also affected by genetics. It can be hard to dial in your tolerance level, especially when you’re first starting so this could be very helpful information to have. I’m right in the middle when it comes to both metabolizing caffeine and how much I am likely to consume.

My results:

Caffeine Metabolite

RS2472297 – CT
RS2470893 – CT

Caffeine Consumption

RS4410790 – CT

RS6495122 – CA

RS382140 – AG

RS17685 – GG

RS2460893 – TC


I hope you found all of this as fascinating as I did. Let me know what your DNA results are in the comments below!

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How Genetics Affect the Taste of Tea