PTC/PROP tasting: anatomy, psychophysics, and sex effects

Physiol Behav. 1994 Dec;56(6):1165-71. doi: 10.1016/0031-9384(94)90361-1.


Taste worlds of humans vary because of taste blindness to phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) and its chemical relative, 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP). We review early PTC studies and apply modern statistical analyses to show that a higher frequency of women tasted PTC crystals, and were tasters (threshold classification). In our laboratory, scaling of PROP bitterness led to the identification of a subset of tasters (supertasters) who rate PROP as intensely bitter. Supertasters also perceive stronger tastes from a variety of bitter and sweet substances, and perceive more burn from oral irritants (alcohol and capsaicin). The density of taste receptors on the anterior tongue (fungiform papillae, taste buds) correlate significantly with perceived bitterness of PROP and support the supertaster concept. Psychophysical data from studies in our laboratory also show a sex effect; women are supertasters more frequently. The anatomical data also support the sex difference; women have more fungiform papillae and more taste buds. Future investigations of PTC/PROP tasting and food behaviors should include scaling to identify supertasters and separate sex effects.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Phenylthiourea*
  • Propylthiouracil*
  • Psychophysics
  • Sex Factors
  • Taste / physiology*
  • Taste Buds / anatomy & histology
  • Taste Buds / physiology
  • Taste Threshold / physiology


  • Phenylthiourea
  • Propylthiouracil