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Scientists Say This Orangutan Can Mix Cocktails

A new study from Lund University in Sweden claims that large primates have a type of taste memory previously thought to be exclusive to humans. One that can be used to mix delicious cocktails.

by Phoebe Hurst
15 August 2016, 2:46pm

Ever found yourself squashed three people-deep at the bar on a Friday night, discreetly elbowing fellow patrons to be next in line as you impatiently tap your credit card against the counter and grumble that anyone could make a gin and tonic faster than this guy? I mean, c'mon, how hard is it to slice a lemon and throw some ice in a glass?

Easy enough for a chimp to do, you might say, if you were trying your best to be the asshole-customer-from-hell.

But according to researchers at Lund University in Sweden, you could be right.

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In a new study published in the Animal Cognition journal, cognitive science researcher Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc claims that large primates have a type of taste memory previously thought to be exclusive to humans. One that can be used to make delicious cocktails, no less.

The researchers came to this conclusion after providing Naong, a male orangutan at a Swedish zoo, with three juices: cherry, rhubarb, and lemon. He was also given apple cider vinegar, and each of the four liquids placed in small bottles with straws.

As New Scientist reports, Naong was not only able to learn the flavours of each substance but also the flavour of every possible pairing.

Naong's favourite juice was cherry but he also enjoyed a cherry rhubarb cocktail. He wasn't so keen on lemon and hated the taste of vinegar.

The orangutan stuck with his favoured flavour combinations 88 percent of the time in three rounds of trials. According to Sauciuc, the fact that he could predict whether the cocktails would taste good or bad is something previously thought to be a "human only" ability.

She told New Scientist: "It has been considered that only humans can [make predictions in this way], but we challenged this and showed that an orangutan was able to predict whether never-before-experienced mixes would taste good or bad, and that he could do this as well as ten human 'control' subjects."

To ensure it wasn't the colours of the drinks that Naong was attracted to, the researchers repeated the experiment using different dyes. Each time, however, Naong chose based on taste.

Researchers say that the fact that Naong could predict whether different flavour combinations would taste good was key, as it shows "affective forecasting"—the ability to predict whether a situation will be pleasurable or not by remembering previous experiences.

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Much like with your memory of blue raspberry tequila shots during freshers' week, Naong was able to recall that he did not enjoy the taste of vinegar, and avoid it in future combinations.

Sauciuc said: "Our study strengthens the view of orangutans as possessing advanced mental capacities and flexible cognition."

No word on whether Naong's "flexible cognition" extended to bouncing unwelcome patrons or running a successful pie-eating competition. It takes more than sweet mixing abilities to be a good bartender, after all.