START A PETITION 25,136,189 members: the world's largest community for good
START A PETITION
x

Are Some Foods Just So Bitter That They Deserve to Be Blocked?

Are Some Foods Just So Bitter That They Deserve to Be Blocked?

There are five basic tastes that the human animal is capable of detecting: starting with the newest, there is umami, sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness. Frequently you will hear people say they are craving something sweet, of maybe something salty, sometimes you will hear someone express a hankering for something sour even, but rarely do you hear someone profess a need for something satisfyingly bitter. It just doesn’t happen. This may be of evolutionary design, as mammals evolved we developed an aversion to bitter tasting foods in the natural world, as these bitter flavors were indicators of naturally-occurring toxins contained in wild plants and fruits. Even though we have evolved into human animals with an empirical logic that things like endive are not going to kill us, most of us still have not developed an enduring enthusiasm for all things, or anything, bitter.

But the fact is many bitter foods hold a great deal of nutritional value (mustard greens, dark chocolate, cabbage, etc) and we would be doing ourselves a huge favor if we were able to cultivate an appreciation of bitter foods, or maybe find some miracle of science that made these bitter offerings not so repellant.

Well science is listening. As was announced at the national conference of the American Chemical Society, scientists at the Givaudan Flavors Corporation in Ohio have developed an enhanced “bitterness blocker” called GIV3616. Added to food, it targets certain taste buds and keeps them from recognizing bitter tastes. The result is that food companies now have a secret weapon in their flavor arsenal to transform off-tasting foods into something more palatable and appealing to the masses. As one of the scientists who developed GIV3616 frames it: “Blocking flavors we call off-notes could help consumers eat healthier and more varied diets. It could encourage them to switch to non-calorie soft drinks and help children and seniors swallow bitter-tasting medications.”

More than likely this will not at all impact the market for natural whole foods. Bitter melons will still taste like bitter melons. No, this GIV3616, if FDA approved, will likely be a well-used asset for the processed foods industry. Instead of masking off-flavors with sugar or sodium, those flavors will simply be blocked right where it counts – your tongue. Diet soda will taste sweet and relatively unadulterated. Cough medicine will lack that awful alkaloid taste, and just taste like the dozen chemical compounds it was meant to taste like. Now if they could only come up with a bitterness blocker to apply to our emotional lives. Oh wait, have they?

Read more: Eating for Health, Following Food, Food, , , , , , , ,

have you shared this story yet?

go ahead, give it a little love

Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

65 comments

+ add your own
8:23AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Some foods are certainly bitter but that is not always a bad thing..dandelion leaves are delightful in a salad.

Hopefully these foods don't get over processed as a way of selling them.

5:31AM PDT on Jun 10, 2012

noted

11:07AM PDT on Jun 9, 2012

Well, you found one. I love bitter greens -- dandelion, kale, romaine (the white part at the bottom of the head is bitter), chicory, etc. I often juice bitter melon with kale, spinach, celery, cucumber, and parsley. I'm one of those lucky people: I love what's good for me. Health and peace.

11:47PM PDT on Apr 6, 2011

i also love bitter gourd, just leave it as it is.

4:54PM PDT on Apr 6, 2011

@Kirsten B: unfortunately, many nutritional powerhouses tend to be bitter, and some people simply cannot tolerate bitter. I have to force myself to eat broccoli, kale, and even Romaine and spinach. I cannot force down collard or mustard greens in any way, shape, or form. So I'm missing out on all the wonderful benefits these foods provide. If used properly (provided to the consumer to use as needed), this chemical would open up a whole range of healthful foods to people who cannot stand bitter flavor. It would also make it easier to take bitter medicines, which for me are so revolting that I cannot swallow them, and if I do manage to get them down, they come right back up.

Unfortunately, I expect that what will really happen is that the big food processors will jump on this as a way to make their junk food "even tastier." The one bright spot in that is, maybe they can cut down on the sugar and artificial sweeteners currently being used to mask bitterness, and just counteract the bitterness instead. Is that an improvement? Depends on what the health hazards of the bitter-blocker is, and you can bet we'll be the guinea pigs to find out.

3:13AM PDT on Apr 6, 2011

What's wrong with greens or dark chocolate? I don't have a problem with either, and I actually prefer dark to milk chocolate, and collard greens, done the southern way is just awesome!

1:10AM PDT on Apr 6, 2011

Nature made it so, let's leave it so. If it is not to a person's particular taste or liking, just avoid it.

7:27PM PDT on Apr 5, 2011

As an adult I can now eat things I couldn't stomach as a child, but no matter how good it is for me, or how it is prepared, I just can't eat chinese bitter melon.

8:07AM PDT on Apr 4, 2011

The author has plainly never talked to beer aficionados in general or to "hop heads" in particular. These kind of people frequently talk about desiring something "satisfyingly bitter". Indeed, so do I. Nothing better than a good quality beer with that hop bitterness that cuts straight to your thirst.

6:54AM PDT on Apr 4, 2011

why have a bitter blocker? another additive to our food? yeah no thanks. our taste buds are there for a reason.. sometimes to warn us that food has gone bad.. or...? it was given to us for a reason... duh

add your comment



Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

people are talking

beautiful!! soooo appreciative of this, this is such a good step in the right direction. i hope this…

They are all well behaved little cuties. And I don't think that a potato chip is all that bad once…

CONTACT THE EDITORS



Select names from your address book   |   Help
   

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.