Stimulus-Dependent Effects of Temperature on Bitter Taste in Humans

Chem Senses. 2017 Feb;42(2):153-160. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjw115. Epub 2016 Nov 20.


This study investigated the effects of temperature on bitter taste in humans. The experiments were conducted within the context of current understanding of the neurobiology of bitter taste and recent evidence of stimulus-dependent effects of temperature on sweet taste. In the first experiment, the bitterness of caffeine and quinine sampled with the tongue tip was assessed at 4 different temperatures (10°, 21°, 30°, and 37 °C) following pre-exposure to the same solution or to water for 0, 3, or 10 s. The results showed that initial bitterness (0-s pre-exposure) followed an inverted U-shaped function of temperature for both stimuli, but the differences across temperature were statistically significant only for quinine. Conversely, temperature significantly affected adaptation to the bitterness of quinine but not caffeine. A second experiment used the same procedure to test 2 additional stimuli, naringin and denatonium benzoate. Temperature significantly affected the initial bitterness of both stimuli but had no effect on adaptation to either stimulus. These results confirm that like sweet taste, temperature affects bitter taste sensitivity and adaptation in stimulus-dependent ways. However, the thermal effect on quinine adaptation, which increased with warming, was opposite to what had been found previously for adaptation to sweetness. The implications of these results are discussed in relation to findings from prior studies of temperature and bitter taste in humans and the possible neurobiological mechanisms of gustatory thermal sensitivity.

Keywords: adaptation; bitter; human; taste; temperature.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Flavanones / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Quinine / pharmacology*
  • Taste / drug effects*
  • Temperature*
  • Tongue / drug effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Flavanones
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds
  • denatonium benzoate
  • Quinine
  • naringin