An American might ask if the mayonnaise is spicy while an Asian will warn them they only think they want the hot sauce on Asian food. A woman is more likely to be better at detecting bitter tastes than men.

The difference is not cultural, that some people are timid when it comes to food, is it anatomical. A new study found that Danes aren't quite as good as Chinese at discerning bitter tastes - and the reason is biology. So if you are more sensitive to the bitter taste found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts and dark chocolate, you now know why.

In the study, 152 study participants were all healthy non-smokers between the ages of 18 and 55. 75 were from Denmark and 77 from China. 71% of participants were women and 29% men.  They 
tasted the bitter substance 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP), considered a genetic marker for differences in taste perception, and found that the vast majority of Chinese test subjects are more sensitive to bitter tastes than the Danish subjects. The prominence of bitter taste was correlated t the number of small bumps, known as papillae, on a person's tongue.

The tongue-coordinate system which the researchers developed for mapping papillae.

Fungiform papillae, located at the tip of the tongue, are known to contain a large portion of our taste buds and play a central role in our food and taste experiences. To appreciate the significance of papillae in food preferences across cultures and ethnicities, it is important to learn more about their distribution, size and quantity.  They didn't count them manually, they got help from AI tools.

The analysis demonstrated that the Chinese test subjects generally had more of these papillae than the Danish subjects, a result that the researchers believe explains why Chinese people are better at tasting bitter flavors. Obviously larger cohorts need to be examined before any definitive conclusions can be drawn about whether these apparent phenotypical differences between Danes and Chinese hold at the general population level.

Rather than preferring spices or bitter, 73% of Danes prefer foods that require a good chew; rye bread and carrots, for example. The vast majority of Chinese subjects (77%) prefer foods that don't require much chewing. Does that have a difference in biology? Unlikely. Just like Americans eat a lot of cheese, that difference from Asia is cultural.