Heineken and Auckland geneticist team up to release taste kits that reveal your flavour preferences

If you're that one mate who can never finish your beer because if you're honest, it's just a bit too bitter, a testing kit that can determine your sensitivity to bitter flavours could be your new best friend at the bar.  

If certain beers leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, or foods and beverages like Brussel sprouts and black coffee have never been your bag, you might be a 'super-taster' - a term Auckland University geneticist Andrew Shelling has coined for people who are highly sensitive to bitter flavours.   

This is nothing to be ashamed of: according to Shelling, a heightened sensitivity to strong flavours may come from our ancestors, whose reactivity to bitterness signalled potentially poisonous or deadly foods - a lifesaving talent to have. 

For example, if you've never been one to enjoy an ice-cold Heineken - a beer that can be described as bitter - your taste in beverage could be genetically predisposed. In this case, the testing kit could help you find the perfect brew for you.

"What we're talking about is a social experiment... what we've got here is a test kit for tasting bitterness. What we know is that the ability to taste bitterness is hardwired in our genetics, written in our DNA," Shelling told AM reporter William Waiirua on Thursday.   

The test works by determining the individual's reaction to phenylthiocarbamide, or PTC: a compound that either tastes very bitter or is virtually tasteless, depending on the genetic makeup of the taster.   

Simply place the testing strip on the tongue for about 10 to 20 seconds, and the taste left behind will shed insight into your flavour preferences.   

The Heineken testing kit
The Heineken testing kits are available for free at select bars across Auckland. Photo credit: Supplied

"This little test kit will detect one bitter compound called PTC. We put this little strip on our tongue about 25 percent of people will go, 'Oooh, that's really bitter', and they're called a super-taster. About half of people will say, 'I can taste that' - they're tasters. And about 25 percent will not taste the bitterness at all - non-tasters," Shelling explained.  

"If you're a super-taster, there's probably some foods you'll tend to avoid or maybe not like so much - things like Brussel sprouts, strong coffee, dark chocolate - and may not like bitter beers. So, this little test can help us work that out."  

While Shelling himself is a non-taster, meaning the strip does not produce any taste in his mouth, Waiirua described the taste as bitter, but not overly so - with Shelling deducing he was likely a taster, the most common group.  

"It's broadening the range of taste experience and opening up other options - the new Heineken Silver might be a beer that you like, for example, if you're a super-taster or sensitive to bitterness," Shelling added.  

The taste kits have been developed in partnership with Heineken to mark the launch of its new low-carb beer, Heineken Silver - a drop Shelling says is better suited to tasters and super-tasters due to its subtle, smoother profile. On the other hand, non-tasters may prefer the flavour of Heineken Original.   

The kits are now available free of charge at select bars around Auckland, allowing the public to explore their 10,000 taste buds and determine which flavour is right for them.  

So next time you're at the bar with your mates, perhaps give a smoother, less bitter beer a try - you may even enjoy it. At the very least, know your ancestors are nodding in approval.