What is the Bitterest Substance Known to Humans?

Western taste buds tend to curry favour with salt and sugar, whilst eastern taste buds tend to be lighter on the sweet side and more balanced in flavour. There is one taste though which is universally avoided – bitter.

Our mouth contains around 10,000 taste buds, most of which are located on and around the tiny bumps on your tongue. However, there are others under the tongue, inside the cheeks, on the roof of the mouth, on the lips and even in the back of the throat. Every taste bud detects five primary tastes: salt, sour, sweet, bitter and Umami (salts of certain acids for example, monosodium glutamate or MSG which provides good flavour). These five flavors should generally be balanced. However, people tend to take in too much salty and sweet flavor in daily diets, and others have reported a nasty aftertaste such as pine mouth when eating bitter food.

Developing a sweet or salt tooth has lead to many diseases, resulting in poor physical condition. In order to change the imbalance of the five flavors, experts advise people to eat more bitter food to wean the taste buds off a diet rich in sugar and salt.

There’s a fabulous article by chow.com on how American’s are moving away from the sweet and salty to explore the bitter pleasures of espresso and enchive.

After a heated debate in the office whether lemons were bitter or sour we decided that these were our top five bitter tastes. Brussel Sprouts didn’t make the list.

Our top five bitter tastes

1.      Posh lettuce – especially the red curly leaves

2.      Orange pith – tolerate it as it’s got more Vitamin C than than the juicy part

3.      Campari

4.      Dark Chocolate

5.      Espresso

Understanding our taste buds likes and dislikes has been important in developing some of our products. Our rodenticides contain Bitrex®, otherwise known as Denatonium benzoate. Bitrex® is officially recognized as the most bitter substance known to humans. Bitrex® is inert and odorless, but it is so bitter that even in minute quantities the taste is intolerable to most people. Ingestion of Bitrex® will normally prompt a reflex response resulting in that person wanting to remove the substance from their mouth as quickly as possible. Children are curious creatures and it is impossible to even prevent them from investigating just how bitter our rodenticides are. The addition of Bitrex® will not always stop bait from getting into the mouth but the rapid onset of the taste will stop any critical amount being ingested.

Each Rentokil product has been independently evaluated by a panel of human tasters to determine the lowest level of Bitrex® required to render the product intolerable for human consumption. All products were then tested to ensure that the efficacy of the products in controlling rodents was not compromised.

Although rats and mice respond to the same four tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salt) as humans, the taste thresholds vary considerably. Research indicates that rodents are less repelled by bitter tastes than humans and require a notably higher concentration before Bitrex® can be detected. This means that the palatability of the bait to target species is not adversely affected. Bitrex® has no obvious smell and does not deter rodents from feeding but tasting something which is a million times stronger than posh lettuce would have me reaching for the nearest bin.

  1. Brigitta
  2. Alicia
  3. Leyton Jay

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