Bitter taste, phytonutrients, and the consumer: a review

Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Dec;72(6):1424-35. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/72.6.1424.


Dietary phytonutrients found in vegetables and fruit appear to lower the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Studies on the mechanisms of chemoprotection have focused on the biological activity of plant-based phenols and polyphenols, flavonoids, isoflavones, terpenes, and glucosinolates. Enhancing the phytonutrient content of plant foods through selective breeding or genetic improvement is a potent dietary option for disease prevention. However, most, if not all, of these bioactive compounds are bitter, acrid, or astringent and therefore aversive to the consumer. Some have long been viewed as plant-based toxins. As a result, the food industry routinely removes these compounds from plant foods through selective breeding and a variety of debittering processes. This poses a dilemma for the designers of functional foods because increasing the content of bitter phytonutrients for health may be wholly incompatible with consumer acceptance. Studies on phytonutrients and health ought to take sensory factors and food preferences into account.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Flavonoids / analysis
  • Flavonoids / therapeutic use
  • Food Analysis*
  • Food Industry
  • Food Preferences
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Isothiocyanates / analysis
  • Isothiocyanates / therapeutic use
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Phenols / analysis
  • Phenols / therapeutic use
  • Plant Proteins / analysis*
  • Taste*


  • Flavonoids
  • Isothiocyanates
  • Phenols
  • Plant Proteins