The ability of our distant ancestors to eat and maybe even enjoy fermenting fruit could be why we like a tipple, apparently

Report image
Image: Our taste for alcohol comes from apes eating rotten fruit. Who knew?

Reza / CC-BY-SA 2.0 / Flickr: R-Z

One of the things that make us quite unusual animals is that we like a drink (or two).


While most creatures lack a taste for booze, humans have the ability to metabolise alcohol pretty effectively – although you might not think so as you stumble home from the office Christmas party.


Turns out it’s all to do with an enzyme called ADH-4, which breaks down alcohol.

In an interview with CBC Radio, biologist Matthew Carrigan said that humans have an effective form of this enzyme that can even turn alcohol into an energy-providing fuel.


He said: “The difference is dramatic. There’s a 40-fold increase in the efficiency of our enzyme compared to almost all other primates.”


This is where the idea of our ape-like ancestors coming down from the trees and discovering an ability to eat fermented fruit 10 million years ago comes into play.


Carrigan added: “Given the choice between starving and eating rotten fruit, it appears eating rotten fruit is advantageous – as long as you have the enzyme to process the alcohol and not get intoxicated.”


He goes on to imagine that to these animals the sight and smell of fermenting fruit might have become desirable because it meant they'd found their next meal. And if that's true, you’ve got those ancient apes to thank for liking a drink. Ahem. But surely the amount of alcohol found in a G&T far exceeds that of a rotting apple ...