Weird Nature

There's A Fascinating Genetic Reason Why You Love Certain Foods (And Can't Tolerate Others)  

Laura Allan
336.4k views 10 items

Here's some good news for picky eaters: genetic dispositions cause you to enjoy the taste of certain foods but not others. If some cultural food choices seem baffling to you, that's normal. Why do people eat what they eat? Why does something you eat taste completely different to someone else of a different race or ethnicity? Of course, taste can also be influenced by things that happen during your upbringing or by disease risk factors coded into DNA. Mainly, though, it's a mixture of many of these.

When looking at how genetics influences what one eats, you have to keep in mind both your geography, your ancestors, and your culture. What seems gross to one person may be a delicacy to another. While no specific flavor pallet is inherently right or wrong, there's no denying that some of the dietary differences are downright shocking.

At least now you have a scientific reason to explain why you hate cilantro.

White People Often Have A Lactose Gene That Can Easily Digest Cheese
White People Often Have A Lact... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list There's A Fascinating Genetic Reason Why You Love Certain Foods (And Can't Tolerate Others)
Photo: Javmorcas/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

It's long been a joke that white people love cheese, and science is beginning to show the stereotype is not inherently wrong. What's more, it has to do with genetics. Lactose intolerance is a major problem in many parts of the world, but it shows up far less often in white people. Only 14% of Caucasians have a problem with lactose, meaning that cheese is an easier thing to have on the menu in, say, Scandinavia than it is in Korea. Cheese has also been found to be genuinely addictive, so once you start eating it in your youth, the chemical compound casein makes it hard to stop.

The French are one particular Caucasian group most suited to eating cheese. Not only are relatively few French people lactose intolerant, but the country also has one of the lowest rates of heart disease. Even though cheese is high in fat and salt, the French still have a life expectancy of 82 years on average.

The Chinese Typically Aren't Into Cheese
The Chinese Typically Aren't I... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list There's A Fascinating Genetic Reason Why You Love Certain Foods (And Can't Tolerate Others)
Photo: Joey Yen/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

On the other hand, you'll find that cheese is not as commonly found in much Asian cuisine. Again, this comes down to a matter of genetics. People of Asian descent are much more likely to have lactose intolerance to the point where it's a major problem compared to most other races and ethnicities.

Specifically, at least 90% of people in China have an issue processing and digesting dairy. Given this fact, people there are less likely to even try to start eating cheese in their food, even from a young age. They don't get hooked by cheese's addictive qualities, so they never gain the rabid need for cheese that many Caucasians do. 

Russians Are Great Drinkers, Genetically
Russians Are Great Drinkers, G... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list There's A Fascinating Genetic Reason Why You Love Certain Foods (And Can't Tolerate Others)
Photo: pregero/flickr/CC-BY-NC 2.0

Russian vodka may be difficult for even heavy drinkers to stomach at times, but Russian natives seem to be able to deal with it just fine. Why is that? As it turns out, Russians are more resistant to the effects of vodka.

People from Russia have a different genetic makeup that people from even nearby parts of Europe, and their genes are better at codifying the ferments that oxidize alcohol. This means that they are simply more resistant to the effects of heavy drinking, so they don't act like blithering idiots after a drink or two. Of course, the Russian liver still takes a hit from long-term alcohol abuse. But in the short term, they're simply better at holding their liquor. 

In other words, don't go shot-for-shot with a Russian - unless you're Russian. 

Latin Cultures Desensitize Their Kids So They Learn To Love Spicy Stuff
Latin Cultures Desensitize The... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list There's A Fascinating Genetic Reason Why You Love Certain Foods (And Can't Tolerate Others)
Photo: MACSD/flickr/CC-BY-NC 2.0

In general, people who like spicy foods tend to be thrill seekers. That's because their bodies respond to the pain that comes with spice as if they're in danger from poison or attack. That also gives our body a spike of adrenaline, which is why adrenaline junkies tend to gravitate towards spicy cuisine. However, there's another factor that influences the love of spicy food, and it's based in geography.

In Latin cultures, spicy foods are often introduced to children when they're fairly young, even in the form of candy. This exposure to spice actually strengthens the nerve endings in the mouth through desensitization, making people more able to eat spicy stuff later in life. This may also be helped by genes that already exist, predisposing people in Latin cultures to be able to handle the heat.

In other words, these cultures pass their love of spicy on to their offspring through both flavor and genetics.