Individual differences in perception of bitterness from capsaicin, piperine and zingerone

Barry G. Green, John E. Hayes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


It was recently shown that in some subjects capsaicin can evoke bitterness as well as burning and stinging, particularly in the circumvallate (CV) region of the tongue. Because perception of bitterness from capsaicin is characterized by large individual differences, the main goal of the present study was to learn whether people who taste capsaicin as bitter also report bitterness from structurally similar sensory irritants that are known to stimulate capsaicin-sensitive neurons. The irritancy and taste of capsaicin and two of its most commonly studied congeners, piperine and zingerone, were measured in individuals who had been screened for visibility of, and reliable access to, the CV papillae. Approximately half of these individuals reported tasting bitterness from all three irritants when the stimuli were swabbed directly onto the CV papillae. Concentrations that produced similar levels of burning sensation across subjects also produced similar (though lower) levels of bitter taste. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that capsaicin and its congeners stimulate bitterness via a common sensory receptor that is distributed differentially among individuals. Additionally, bitter tasters rated gustatory qualities (but not burning and stinging) slightly but significantly higher than did bitter non-tasters, which suggests that perception of capsaicin bitterness is associated with a higher overall taste responsiveness (but not chemesthetic responsiveness) in the CV region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-60
Number of pages8
JournalChemical senses
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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