Show Details

Beating Bitterness

August 28, 2015

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



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.


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.


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. 


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.