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Monday, July 05, 2010

Do Women Taste Better Than Men?

Of course they do: like cream and honey. Men taste like old socks.

Seriously, though, more and more, the beer world is coming around to the idea that women may have better palates than men. Via British beer writer Melissa Cole comes this recent story in the Sun:

Beer giant SABMiller, responsible for brands including Peroni, Grolsch and Nastro Azzurro, say 30 per cent of their 1,000 advanced-level tasters are now lasses. That's four times more than just ten years ago....

Studies have found the fairer sex is the superior sex when it comes to detecting the undesirable chemicals that make beer taste stale and fusty.

This definitely squares with my experience. Women seem to have a better critical apparatus for detecting and describing flavors, and they seem to appreciate a wider spectrum of flavors. But I wonder, is it nature or nurture? The Sun suggests biology:

It is thought their more sensitive palate is the result of increased numbers of fungiform papillae - the tiny structures on the tongue that house our tastebuds.

One theory is that evolution has played a role - for centuries men hunted while females prepared food and, to protect their families, had to check if it was tainted, off or even poisonous.

But behavior may be a major factor, too. In the US, it is still the case that women are more oriented toward cooking and food. Three-quarters of the readers of Bon Appétit are women, and some large percentage of food writers are women. I don't think this is purely based on the number of fungiform papillae women possess, either. For women, the culture of eating involves the sensuality of food. Women revel in the luxury of taste. Men have a cruder sense of food and beverage--for them, it's more about quantity than quality. A pile of brats and a cooler of beer is generally a crowd-pleaser among a group of men. Generalities, sure, but that's often a clue.

Beer tasting, above all else, requires attention. Slugging it back in two-ounce gulps does not open one to the complexities of taste and aroma. Women, who are already interested in investigating flavor, bring this attention to beer. They are predisposed to actually taste it. This is just a theory, but I think women who come to good beer are generally well ahead of their male counterparts in knowing how to explore and identify flavors.

If there is some biology involved, I wonder if it has to do with liking different flavors than men. Just as general categories, if we talk about the five flavors--sour, bitter, sweet, salty, and umami--do men and women tilt one way or another? I think so. In my experience, men are drawn to umami and salt, women to sweet and sour. Bitter--about equal. If this is true, it would suggest that women find different styles of beers more tasty than others. It wouldn't necessarily mean women are better tasters, but different.

I throw it out to you (and particularly the women): are women better tasters? How so?

Update. Alan, failing to find the data in my post he wished to see, went and found some. A nice, sciencey addition to the discussion.


  1. "Do Women Taste Better Than Men?
    Of course they do: like cream and honey. Men taste like old socks."

    Are you releasing some of your skeletons from your closet, Jeff? Spent some time in your High School Gyms towel room I see.... We're all glad of your personal choice!

    Strangest, but most revealing post you've ever had!

  2. It would be nice if some actual science were associated with this claim.


  3. I prefer to think of it as "faux brainy" but the comments are starting to come in from sooper tastahs with their own tales of "yik".