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Beating Bitterness

August 28, 2015

How do certain foods banish the bitter aftertaste of some medications?

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Bittersweet science…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

If you swallow something bitter, like a pill, something sweet can make the nasty taste go away. 

GARY BEAUCHAMP (Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia):

One of the ways to get the bitter compound out of the mouth is to overwhelm it cognitively. You get a strong sweetness signal, and that seems to, in the brain, cause a reduction in bitterness.

HIRSHON:

That’s biologist Gary Beauchamp of the Monell Chemical Senses Center. He says salt can also combat bitterness, not in the brain, but by blocking taste receptors right on the tongue.

BEAUCHAMP:

If you take a bitter compound and mix it with salt, you get a suppression of the bitterness; if you take the bitter and put it on one side, there is no suppression. 

HIRSHON:

Salt and sweet together can be even more effective, which could explain the popularity of trendy sea salt-infused chocolate bars. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.