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confusing bitter taste for sour


thock
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My SO continually confuses bitter with sour. In other words, when he says something tastes bitter, and I taste NO hint of bitter, I will often dig for more info. Invariably, he says that it tastes like some food item that is typically sour. For instance, he tasted some cheese, last night, that I thought he might like, but he turned up his nose, saying it was bitter. I probed, and he said it tasted like there was buttermilk in it. Now, this cheese does have a sour tang to it, but not overly so.

He also thinks that whole wheat pasta or whole wheat bread tastes bitter, even when it doesn't taste sour to me.

Has anyone else ever run into someone who mistakenly calls sour tastes bitter, or confuses tastes in other ways than that?

It's terribly frustrating to me to have him misidentify tastes, because then I don't minimize or eliminate the REAL problem, and am mislead to eliminate other things that might not actually be offensive to him.

Tracy

Tracy

Lenexa, KS, USA

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It's actually quite real, and not uncommon. I work as a professional taster, and part of my job is identifying and rating the intensity of bitter taste(along with the other 4 tastes) in various things. Some of my colleagues simply can't do it, and my boss knows to toss their data, when it comes to bitter/sour, and we've all been highly trained. It's been the subject of some very stressful meetings. We were told that 33% of people can't taste "bitter" properly, and it definitely shows among my group.

Even to someone that can usually detect bitter, there's an intensity level, or certain chemicals, sometimes, where the two tastes cross, and fool even those of us that have no problems telling them apart, usually. We just had a huge screening on citric acid, recently, and I got a few wrong, rating pure citric acid dissolved in pure water with a hint of bitterness.

Edited by Lilija (log)
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i see it all the time in the restaurant when tasting inexperienced people on wine. the term bitter for some is used as a catch all for dislike. to these tasters the wines usually feature some dissonant acidity, but they lack the vocabulary to say "too dry" or "too tart". though it could also be as lilija explains.

abstract expressionist beverage compounder

creator of acquired tastes

bostonapothecary.com

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Hmmm. Looks like I'll just have to minimize sour things, for him, and see if I still get the "bitter" complaints. I really wish I could get him to be more helpfully descriptive, but he loses patience with it. He tells me our "body chemistry" is different, thus we taste differently. I guess, in a way, he's right.

I'm not sure that he can't taste bitter at all, but that it's a confusion. Maybe I'll get some club soda (that's the stuff with quinine, isn't it?) and citric acid, and do a taste test on us both. That way, maybe I can understand better what things taste like to him and maybe give him a reference to use to explain how things taste to him when they don't taste good to him.

Tracy

Lenexa, KS, USA

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Supertasters are particularly sensitive to bitter tastes, non-tasters aren't. Perhaps it is possible that your SO is a non-taster (as opposed to a medium or supertaster) and lacks not only the vocabulary and experience but also the capacity to differentiate the tastes. In this case you could be tasting something objectively different and any attempt to understand or educate will be hampered not by a lack of common language but by a lack of a common sensory framework.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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Supertasters are particularly sensitive to bitter tastes, non-tasters aren't. Perhaps it is possible that your SO is a non-taster (as opposed to a medium or supertaster) and lacks not only the vocabulary and experience but also the capacity to differentiate the tastes. In this case you could be tasting something objectively different and any attempt to understand or educate will be hampered not by a lack of common language but by a lack of a common sensory framework.

Hmm. Interesting. I think I'll try that experiment I talked about above on both of us and see if he's a non-taster. I thought he might be a super-taster, since some things I love, he absolutely despises and thinks are "bitter." I'll have to do some research on non-tasters. Thanks!

Tracy

Lenexa, KS, USA

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Something similar happens for me, but in my case with colors rather than flavors, in art discussions between me and a painter friend. She identifies olive drab colors, which are yellow and black combinations, essentially darkened yellow, as greens which are instead yellow and blue combinations. She doesn't like some of the the olive drabs in my paintings and calls them greens, which they are not. At first I missed what she was referring to, but now that I have sorted out her naming transpositions, I just translate her commentary in my head as she speaks.

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It's actually quite real, and not uncommon. I work as a professional taster, and part of my job is identifying and rating the intensity of bitter taste(along with the other 4 tastes) in various things. Some of my colleagues simply can't do it, and my boss knows to toss their data, when it comes to bitter/sour, and we've all been highly trained.

That's as impressive as it is fascinating. How does one qualify and excel at a job like that? Whenever I think my tongue and brain cells are firing together with cosmic clarity I read or hear words to set me right.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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That's as impressive as it is fascinating. How does one qualify and excel at a job like that? Whenever I think my tongue and brain cells are firing together with cosmic clarity I read or hear words to set me right.

I think I got lucky with this job, one of the major R&D facilities of IFF is in my town, and they have regular consumer panels, open to anyone. I got involved with that first, doing focus groups and showing up regularly for basic stuff (like, "sniff this detergent, tell us how it makes you feel" or "describe the berry flavors in this new yogurt"). I did that for years, then out of the blue, years ago, they called me for "internal" which then kicked off six months of pretty intense training, and screening, and is considered a full time job. We're constantly getting trained, screened, and calibrated. All 12 of us in the panel are considered "supertasters" (although no one counted our tastebuds...)Whoever said that supertasters can taste bitter, or whatever, is incorrect. We sometimes have issues with bitter and sour too.

I think flavor and aromatics are very subjective, which is why everyone has some sort of different ideas about how a thing tastes or should taste. So, when all your cylinders are firing on cosmic synchronization, and everything gets clear and you "get it" then...totally ignore outside influence, because I'm sure you do. We're not even allowed to talk to each other, during the actual tasting/rating stuff. People are WILDLY influenced by each other. We can taste a broth, and our boss doesn't say anything, and we have 12 very different ideas. He says "roasted" and we're all like "ahh! Aha! roasted chicken! Yes!" Then he's like, "I lied.". So, yeah, it's a great exercise. Don't second guess yourself.

I'm really into fine beer, but through my experiences at work, and hanging around various beer tastings and online communities...well, I just don't really participate in hobby groups anymore. You cannot really properly quantify flavors, though by God, people try. It boils down mostly to opinion and a certain non-standardized vocabulary, where aromatics and flavors are concerned. My boss goes into meltdown mode, when we're tasting, when someone says "this is good, very nutty" or something like that. When it comes to tastes (and by tastes, I mean five basic) it's a lot more concrete, and for us, very standardized. We have a numerical scale.

Maybe the op should use a numerical scale with the SO, to gauge just how bitter/sour a thing is, and what's an acceptable threshold. It really cuts through the "I don't like it, it's bitter" talk, and gets right down to numbers, hehe.

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Ooh, now THAT appeals to my engineer-nature! Numerical scores are awesome. I also found some test strips on Amazon that can be used to see what people can taste, as far as bitter tastes are concerned.

Tracy

Lenexa, KS, USA

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http://www.sensorysociety.org/ssp/wiki/Labeled_Magnitude_Scale/

Heh, there ya go. In our terms, we decided that barely detectable is the equivalent scent/aroma/flavor of tap water, weak is skim milk, moderate is the scent of a fresh rose/buttered popcorn, strong is a garbage can in warm weather/very sharp stinky cheese, very strong is bleach or ammonia in a closed room, and the strongest imaginable is...well, off the charts, like as pervasive as rotting flesh. In various different panels, we come up with our own vocabulary for the LMS, so we can discuss it and everyone is on the same page. It's a 0-100 scale. 1.4 is Barely Detectable, 6 is Weak, 17 is Moderate, 30 is Strong, and I forget what Very Strong is, and Strongest Imaginable is 100.

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Lilija, thank you!

And thank you again. That LMS makes great sense to me, and I can see why it's important to industry.

I'd love to read a fancy-pants restaurant reviewer eating vindalu and writing "moderate to strong chemesthesis".

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Cranberries are DEFINITELY bitter to me. Not enough to make me refuse to eat them, but enough that it's definitely detectable. Cranberry juice cocktail wrinkles my mouth with the aftertaste. I totally fail to understand why people voluntarily eat bitter foods.

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In Harold McGee's seminar this past weekend at Astor Center's "The Alchemy of Taste and Smell" he explained that no 2 people taste things the same way.

My understanding is that "supertasters" have more tastebuds and an intolerance/strong aversion to bitter.

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My understanding is that "supertasters" have more tastebuds and an intolerance/strong aversion to bitter.

Like I said in one of my previous posts, that's sort of a sweeping generalization. Out of my panel of 12, some of us actually like bitter flavors (hence my obsession with stouts and IPAs) and some of us don't, it's opinion. Two colleagues get the bitter/sour flavors wrong a lot, and all of us have made the mistake at least once (I did it myself, a few weeks ago...and again, I enjoy and can taste bitterness).

"Aversion", that's where opinion figures in, and opinion is not a measurable thing. When I think of the word intolerance, I think of something that makes one physically ill, and I assure you, not one of us "supertasters" has ever gotten sick from the bitter flavor.

On a slightly related side note, the term "supertaster" is about as meaningful, in a professional setting, as "foodie". I use it here, because it's a recognizable term, but I get that it's sort of a media friendly catchall term.

Edited by Lilija (log)
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I'm haunted by an experiment we did in a 9th grade science class. The teacher handed out what looked like a piece of litmus paper to each student. All at once we were asked to put the paper in our mouths. Immediately, nearly the entire class was spitting out the paper in disgust while I was thinking "Tastes like paper to me". I looked around and found a girl across the room that was not reacting either. We looked at each other and shrugged.

According to the teacher we were missing a particular type of taste bud. I didn't think about it much as I had never perceived any problem. But later in life I began to wonder about it.

Frustratingly, I've never been able to find exactly what those strips were and what they were testing. How might this affect my perception? I don't feel that I'm unable to perceive any of the basic flavors (though I don't by any means think that my pallete is in any way near competition ready). Then again, there are things, like coffee, where I'm baffled as to the attraction.

As an aside, perception of color is another area where there is a great degree of variation between individuals.

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Frustratingly, I've never been able to find exactly what those strips were and what they were testing.

phenylthiocarbamide?

Thanks, I bet that's it. I'll do some further looking. In my case, on one hand there seem to be contradictions, on the other, some supporting evidence. But it certainly seems plausible.

Lips curled in derision as when Jerry Seinfeld would say "Newman...."

"Phenylthiocarbamide...."

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Yeah, that's one, and then they also have strips with thiourea, which is bitter, and sodium benzoate, which can taste any number of different ways, depending on who you are.

I'm going to order a vial of each of these strips from Amazon and test both me and my SO. I'm also going to mix up some liquids to taste (from some experiment I found online, can't remember the link):

1/2 tsp vinegar in 2 tbsp water

1/2 tsp sugar in 2 tbsp water

1/8 tsp table salt in 2 tbsp water

to see what we taste. Should be an interesting experiment. I plan to subject all his family and mine to the same "torture" test, to see what everyone tastes, and 'cause I'm evil. :wink:

Tracy

Lenexa, KS, USA

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That's gonna be awesome! If you can get your hands on pure caffeine, that's what we use for bitter taste. Or...better yet...skip that, pure caffeine can be lethal at high doses...and by high doses, I mean a few grams.

Still, as a taste-nerd, making everyone in your family taste things sounds like a fun afternoon, to me. :raz:

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I would like to throw one more word into the mix. Acrid. I deal mostly in the world of cocktails where sour (Whiskey) and bitter (Angostura, Campari) are POSITIVE words.

One of the most interesting distinctions is when dealing with citrus juice. When I taste fresh lemon/lime, from a fruit, fresh squeezed I taste the sweetness that is in it along with the sour. That same juice the next day is ACRID. It has lost its sweetness and tastes not sour but acidic. (you know those plastic lime juices in the shape of a lime. That is nothing but acrid.) When dealing with citrus the bitterness comes from the pith. The juice is sweet/sour and the pith is bitter. You could show someone the difference between bitter and sour with one fruit.

Cheers,

Toby

A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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