While milk chocolate is pretty well-loved, dark chocolate is kind of divisive. Some people can’t get enough, while others aren’t fans in the slightest. Less sweet and more bitter, with a much higher cocoa content, dark chocolate is a bit more complex. Without the milk solids found in milk chocolate, the dark variety is also a healthier treat – and a fantastic addition to almost any baked goods. But there’s more to a love of dark chocolate than just a craving for something slightly sweet, a little tart and super chocolatey.
According to recent research, it might not be your tastebuds alone that make you love dark chocolate. It turns out that there’s a potential link between how much you enjoy the bitter bite of this cacao-rich treat and your genes.
A preference for dark chocolate can mean a preference for other bitter flavors
If you like the taste of dark chocolate, here’s a question for you: Do you also take your coffee black?
Dark chocolate fans, it turns out, often also enjoy the bitter taste of plain coffee. Scientists have uncovered a connection between those who keep their morning mugs free of creamers, sugars and other sweetness-inducing additions and a preference for dark chocolate. A study published in Scientific Reports found that the bitter flavor profiles of dark chocolate and black coffee, plus the caffeine content, are preferred by some individuals because they share some key similarities.
After examining data from UK and US cohorts, the study’s researchers found that individuals who preferred the flavor of black coffee also had a preference for dark chocolate. And in fact, those who liked a black, no-sweeteners-added cup of coffee also tended to have an overall preference for bitter flavors as a whole. The researchers’ findings pointed to bitter-flavored teas, too – meaning those who prefer bitter-forward foods and bevvies may like anything that has a bit of bitterness.
Why, exactly, do dark chocolate enthusiasts and black coffee drinkers like these potent and bitter foods? There’s more than flavor behind it.
It’s all about caffeine (and your genes)
You might not think of dark chocolate as an energy-boosting, caffeine-rich food, but it turns out that this cacao-centric treat and coffee have more in common than you’d think. According to the researchers’ findings, it’s a genetic preference for caffeine that drives a preference for both dark chocolate and black coffee.
In the course of their work, the researchers found that it technically isn’t the taste of these items that people love. Rather, it’s their genetic makeup. Individuals who prefer bitter tastes actually have genes that allow them to metabolize caffeine faster than the average person. That means they get a boost from caffeine sooner – and also run through its energy-boosting effects faster. The faster your genes enable you to metabolize caffeine, the sooner it’ll wear off and leave you wanting more.
Where does that bitterness come into play? Well, according to researchers, bitter flavor profiles “signal” to you that you’ll get more energy and alertness from a particular food or beverage. You essentially learn to associate bitter tastes with a stimulating effect. Essentially, when you taste something as bitter as black coffee or dark chocolate, your brain tells you that you’re going to perk up. And your body learns to enjoy that bitterness because of its positive effects.
For those who have that genetic predisposition to metabolize caffeine faster, a preference for dark chocolate and black, unsweetened coffee develops because they essentially need to consume more for the same benefits as an average person.
If you’re wondering why dark chocolate is involved in these caffeine “cravings”, here’s something that’ll surprise you. Dark chocolate actually contains about 12 mg of caffeine per 1 oz serving. Plus, this not-so-sweet chocolate variety contains theobromine, which is a caffeine-like compound that offers psychostimulant benefits. So when you take a bite of this sweet treat, you really are getting a little boost, just like you would from black coffee.
The next time you’re craving a little dark chocolate, just blame it on your genes! And don’t be afraid to have a few bites. Dark chocolate is good for you – it’s loaded with copper and manganese, two nutrients that can promote bone strength, metabolic function and even brain-boosting benefits.