Are Women Better Whiskey Tasters Than Men?

It’s one of those axioms repeated so often it starts to feel like it must be fact: women are better tasters than men. But is there actually any truth to that notion?

According to recent stories on NPR, Forbes, and the Association of Psychological Science, the answer is yes. Women seem to have a more acute sense of smell than men do, and smell drives much of our experience of taste. And women’s sense of smell isn’t just a little bit better than men’s; it’s a lot better.

A study at Rutgers University about how quickly people could become sensitive to certain odors over time found that women—specifically women of reproductive age—“could, with some training, identify odors at concentrations up to 11 orders of magnitude lower than men who’d started out with similar experience with the smell.”

Translated to whiskey, that means women who learn to identify notes of, say, green apple or toffee in a spirit may have an easier time detecting those aromas than men, and at lower concentrations.

So why is it that people with a Y chromosome aren’t as sensitive to aromas as their XX counterparts? Nobody seems to know for sure, but scientists have posited a number of theories, mostly related to reproduction: It might have been important for women to detect contaminated food before their babies eat it, or women may have needed to be able to recognize their babies by scent.

There are also more women than men among the “supertasters,” that group of people with many more taste buds than average. Linda Bartoshuk, a professor at the University of Florida Center for Smell and Taste, estimates that about 34% of women are supertasters, while just 22% of men are.

So, in short, yes: women tend to have a better sense of smell—and, therefore, a better sense of taste—than men. But don’t let it get you down, guys. With practice and training, men can still learn to identify the same flavors and aromas as women. Now get tasting!

Bourbon of the Mont Club
About the author

Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is a food and drinks writer based in Portland, Oregon. She's the managing editor of The Whiskey Wash, the managing editor of Edible Portland, and a regular contributor to local and national publications.