Soups

Bitter

Bitterness is a sensation often considered unpleasant characterized by having a sharp, pungent taste. Dark, unsweetened chocolate, caffeine, lemon rind, and some types of fruit are known to be bitter. Bitterness is the most sensitive of the tastes, and many perceive it as unpleasant, sharp, or disagreeable, but it is sometimes desirable and intentionally added via various bittering agents. Common bitter foods and beverages include coffee, unsweetened cocoa, South American mate, marmalade, bitter gourd, beer (due to hops), bitters, olives, citrus peel, many plants in the Brassicaceae family, dandelion greens, wild chicory, and escarole. Quinine is also known for its bitter taste and is found in tonic water. Bitterness is of interest to those who study evolution, as well as various health researchers since a large number of natural bitter compounds are known to be toxic. The ability to detect bitter-tasting, toxic compounds at low thresholds is considered to provide an important protective function. Plant leaves often contain toxic compounds, yet even amongst leaf-eating primates, there is a tendency to prefer immature leaves, which tend to be higher in protein and lower in fiber and poisons than mature leaves. Amongst humans, various food processing techniques are used worldwide to detoxify otherwise inedible foods and make them palatable. The threshold for stimulation of bitter taste by quinine averages a concentration of 0.000008 M. The taste thresholds of other bitter substances are rated relative to quinine, which is thus given a reference index of 1. For example, Brucine has an index of 11, is thus perceived as intensely more bitter than quinine, and is detected at a much lower solution threshold. The most bitter substance known is the synthetic chemical denatonium, which has an index of 1,000. It is used as an aversive agent (a bitterant) that is added to toxic substances to prevent accidental ingestion. This was discovered in 1958 during research on lignocaine, a local anesthetic, by MacFarlan Smith of Gorgie, Edinburgh, Scotland. Research has shown that TAS2Rs (taste receptors, type 2, also known as T2Rs) such as TAS2R38 coupled to the G protein gustducin are responsible for the human ability to taste bitter substances. They are identified not only by their ability to taste for certain "bitter" ligands, but also by the morphology of the receptor itself (surface bound, monomeric). The TAS2R family in humans is thought to comprise about 25 different taste receptors, some of which can recognize a wide variety of bitter-tasting compounds. Over 550 bitter-tasting compounds have been identified, of which about 100 have been assigned to one or more specific receptors. Recently it is speculated that the selective constraints on the TAS2R family have been weakened due to the relatively high rate of mutation and pseudogenization. Researchers use two synthetic substances, phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) and 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) to study the genetics of bitter perception. These two substances taste bitter to some people, but are virtually tasteless to others. Among the tasters, some are so-called "supertasters" to whom PTC and PROP are extremely bitter. The variation in sensitivity is determined by two common alleles at the TAS2R38 locus. This genetic variation in the ability to taste a substance has been a source of great interest to those who study genetics.