The science and complexity of bitter taste

Nutr Rev. 2001 Jun;59(6):163-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2001.tb07007.x.


Food choices and eating habits are largely influenced by how foods taste. Without being the dominant taste sensation, bitter taste contributes to the complexity and enjoyment of beverages and foods. Compounds that are perceived as bitter do not share a similar chemical structure. In addition to peptides and salts, bitter compounds in foods may include plant-derived phenols and polyphenols, flavonoids, catechins, and caffeine. Recent studies have shown that humans possess a multitude of bitter taste receptors and that the transduction of bitter taste may differ between one compound and another. Studies of mixture interactions suggest further that bitter compounds suppress or enhance sweet and sour tastes and interact with volatile flavor molecules. Caffeine, a natural ingredient of tea, coffee, and chocolate, has a unique flavor profile. Used as a flavoring agent, it enhances the sensory appeal of beverages. Research developments on the genetics and perception of bitter taste add to our understanding of the role of bitterness in relation to food preference.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Caffeine / chemistry
  • Eating
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Flavoring Agents / chemistry
  • Food Preferences*
  • Humans
  • Perception
  • Taste / genetics
  • Taste / physiology*
  • Volatilization


  • Flavoring Agents
  • Caffeine