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Drunken Monkeys: How Our Thirst For Booze May Have Evolutionary Roots

It’s happened to all of us. It’s 3 pm on a Friday and all you can think about is how hard you’re going to hit happy hour the millisecond you get out of work. OK, maybe it’s noon on a Wednesday and you’re thinking it. Hell, maybe it’s Monday and you just went straight to the bar that morning. Regardless, while your eagerness for a frosty pint or cocktail may feel like a simple lack of discipline, it may actually have an evolutionary basis. In his new book The Drunken Monkey: Why We Drink and Abuse Alcohol, Robert Dudley argues that early primates may have learned to associate the smell of alcohol with ripe fruit, and that this may explain our taste for the sauce.

The proposed connection between the smell of alcohol and edible fruit has to do with the chemistry of an apple, mango, or pear once it’s ripe. As a fruit is ripening, yeast breaks the fruit’s sugar down into ethanol, which in common speech is the stuff we call “alcohol.” Over generations of searching for food on the forest floor, animals may have eventually started using this alcoholic scent as a signal for ripe fruit. Just like a whiff of ethanol from a bright red apple may have excited an early primate back in the day, on some level, we may feel that same excitement when we pretentiously sniff a wine cork like we have any idea what we’re supposed to be smelling.

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. (

This theory is not without its skeptics. Doubtful scientists point out that if the smell of ethanol was truly what attracted animals to fruit, overripe fruit should be even more appealing than ripe fruit, since it contains way more ethanol. This, however, doesn’t seem to be the case for most primates… except those human weirdos who like the gross, mostly-brown bananas.

What do you think, chem-friendly Nerdist readers? Is our appetite for the hooch based in ancient forest foraging? Theorize below, but we may not read your comments right away; I’m heading to the next bar right now…

HT: LiveScience

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  1. Andy says:

    It’s entirely possible that the smell would draw our primate anscestors to ripe or over-ripe fruit, but then they would use more discerning judgement to determine whether or not they should eat it. Either way, this is an interesting idea, with what seems to be more thought-experiment than actual evidence.

  2. Scott says:

    Interesting theory. I think the smell could have been a subtle cue for them monkeys about what was edible. And maybe they figured out the stronger the scent the bigger the buzz.

  3. Dalif says:

    I think I’m with the doubtful scientists on this one. It seems a little far fetched, mainly because the window in which fruit would be giving off just the right amount of booze scent, would probably be pretty slim. I think color and feel/texture has a lot more to do with our appreciation of fruit.

    As for getting hammered, well that’s probably something we do, because it’s basically fun, right? Or escapism. Or both.