A bitterant (or bittering agent) is a chemical that is added to a product to make it smell or taste bitter. Bitterants are commonly used as aversive agents to discourage the inhalation or ingestion of toxic substances.

Examples of useEdit

  • The addition of a bitterant to ethanol denatures the product.
  • Bitterants are used in antifreeze to prevent pet and child poisonings.[1] It is required by law in some places (France, Oregon, etc.).
  • Gas dusters often use a bitterant to discourage inhalant abuse, although this can cause problems for legitimate users. The bitterant not only leaves a bitter flavor in the air, but also leaves a bitter residue on objects, like screens and keyboards, that may transfer to hands and cause problems (such as when eating).
  • Game cartridges for the Nintendo Switch are coated with denatonium as a safety feature to deter small children from ingesting them.[2][3][4]
  • Some button cell batteries manufactured by Duracell are coated with a bitterant to discourage accidental ingestion by children.[5]

Examples of bitterantsEdit

Bitterness scalesEdit

The threshold for stimulation of bitter taste by quinine averages a concentration of 8 μM (8 micromolar).[7] The taste thresholds of other bitter substances are rated relative to quinine, which is thus given a reference index of 1.[7][8] For example, Brucine has an index of 11, is thus perceived as intensely more bitter than quinine, and is detected at a much lower solution threshold.[7] The most bitter substance known is the synthetic chemical denatonium, which has an index of 1,000.[8] It is used as an aversive agent (a bitterant) that is added to toxic substances to prevent accidental ingestion. This was discovered in 1958 during research on lignocaine, a local anesthetic, by MacFarlan Smith of Gorgie, Edinburgh, Scotland.[citation needed]


Beer bitterness scales attempt to rate the perceived relative bitterness of beer. The bitterness of beer is provided by compounds such as isohumulones from hops used during brewing.

The International Bittering Units scale, or simply IBU scale, is measured through the use of a spectrophotometer and solvent extraction[9] a calculation is performed on this absorbance to give a result in IBU.[10] This technique was adopted at the same time as another method based on measuring the concentration (in milligrams per litre; parts per million w/v) of IAA isomerized α acids in a beer, causing some confusion among small-scale brewers.[11] The American Society of Brewing Chemists, in the introduction to its methods on measuring bitterness, points out some differences between the results of the two methods:

While the results of the IAA methods are practically identical to those obtained by the [I]BU method for beer brewed with fresh hops, the IAAs of beer brewed with old or poorly stored hops, and with certain special hop extracts, can be significantly lower than the [I]BU figure.[9]

The European Bitterness Units scale, often abbreviated as EBU, is a bitterness scale[12] in which lower values are generally "less bitter" and higher values "more bitter". The scale and method are defined by the European Brewery Convention, and the numerical value should be the same as of the International Bitterness Units scale (IBU), defined in co-operation with the American Society of Brewing Chemists.[13] However, the exact process of determining EBU and IBU values differs slightly, which may in theory result with slightly smaller values for EBU than IBU.[14]

IBU can not be determined by perceived bitterness. For example, the bittering effect of hops is less noticeable in beers with a high quantity of malt, so a higher bitterness is needed in heavier beers to balance the flavour and achieve the same perceived bitterness as compared to a lighter beer. For example, an Imperial Stout may have an IBU of 50, but will taste less bitter than an English Bitter with an IBU of 30, because the latter beer uses much less malt than the former. After around 100 IBU, hop utilization is so poor that the number ceases to be meaningful in regard to taste, although continued hop additions will increase bitterness. Light lagers without much bitterness will generally have 8-20 IBU, while an India Pale Ale may have 60-100 IBU or more.[15]

See alsoEdit

  • Denaturation (food), the deliberate addition of an unpleasantly flavored or poisonous substances to food in order to prevent the consumption of the food for various reasons.
  • Adulterant, a substance added to food for deceptive or malicious reasons, for example to cheaply replace legitimate ingredients.


  1. ^ Cheryl Hogue, Safer Antifreeze Bill Is Moving Fast, Chemical & Engineering News, 31 July 2006, pp. 39-41. Access date: 3 January 2009.
  2. ^ Dornbush, Johnathon (2 March 2017). "Nintendo Switch Cartridges Taste Terrible". IGN. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  3. ^ Baraniuk, Chris (2 March 2017). "Nintendo Switch cartridges 'taste so bad'". BBC News. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  4. ^ "New trend: Putting disgusting Nintendo Switch cartridges in your mouth". The Daily Dot. 6 March 2017. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  5. ^ Gartenberg, Chaim (29 September 2020). "Duracell's new coin batteries have a bitter coating that makes them taste terrible". The Verge. Retrieved 29 September 2020.
  6. ^ Final Report Study of Aversive Agents (PDF). Consumer Product Safety Commission United States of America. 18 November 1992. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 June 2011. Retrieved 15 November 2010.
  7. ^ a b c Guyton, Arthur C. (1991) Textbook of Medical Physiology. (8th ed). Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders
  8. ^ a b McLaughlin S., Margolskee R.F. (1994). "The Sense of Taste". American Scientist. 82 (6): 538–545.
  9. ^ a b "Methods of Analysis: Beer 23. Beer Bitterness". American Society of Brewing Chemists. 1996. pp. 1–4. Retrieved 9 October 2015.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ Rabin & Forget 1998, p. 43.
  11. ^ "What Is an IBU...Really?". Basic Brewing Radio. Season 4. Episode 12. 20 March 2008.
  12. ^ Lehigh Valley Homebrewers (2007). "Beer and Brewing Glossary". Archived from the original on 24 September 2008. Retrieved 5 August 2009. IBUs (International Bittering Units) - The accepted worldwide standard for measuring bitterness in beer, also known as EBU, based on the estimated alpha acid percentage of the hops used and the length of time they are boiled.
  13. ^ European Brewery Convention. "The Analysis Committee". Archived from the original on 19 May 2009. Retrieved 5 August 2009. The EBC Analysis Committee also works closely together with the 'American Society of Brewing Chemists' (ASBC) to establish so-called 'International methods' with world-wide recognition of applicability. A partnership declaration between EBC and ASBC has been signed. The integration of the IOB methods of analysis and EBC methods is nearing completion.
  14. ^ ajdelange (11 June 2009). "Difference between IBU and EBU". Retrieved 5 August 2009. Because the absorption decreases pretty quickly with time at the completion of extraction the EBC reported value will, in general, be a little smaller than ASBC reported value unless the beer requires centrifugation. For all practical considerations the two systems should give the same results.
  15. ^ Crouch 2006, p. 263–.


  • Crouch, Andy (2006). The Good Beer Guide to New England. UPNE. ISBN 978-1-58465-469-8.
  • Rabin, Dan; Forget, Carl (1998). The Dictionary of Beer and Brewing. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-57958-078-0.