Bitterness suppression with zinc sulfate and Na-cyclamate: A model of combined peripheral and central neural approaches to flavor modification

Russell S.J. Keast, Paul A.S. Breslin

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31 Scopus citations


Purpose. Zinc sulfate is known to inhibit the bitterness of the antimalarial agent quinine [R. S. J. Keast. The effect of zinc on human taste perception. J. Food Sci. 68:1871-1877 (2003)]. In the present work, we investigated whether zinc sulfate would inhibit other bitter-tasting compounds and pharmaceuticals. The utility of zinc as a general bitterness inhibitor is compromised, however, by the fact that it is also a good sweetness inhibitor [R. S. J. Keast, T. Canty, and P. A. S. Breslin. Oral zinc sulfate solutions inhibit sweet taste perception. Chem. Senses 29:513-521 (2004)] and would interfere with the taste of complex formulations. Yet, zinc sulfate does not inhibit the sweetener Na-cyclamate. Thus, we determined whether a mixture of zinc sulfate and Na-cyclamate would be a particularly effective combination for bitterness inhibition (Zn) and masking (cyclamate). Method. We used human taste psychophysical procedures with chemical solutions to assess bitterness blocking. Results. Zinc sulfate significantly inhibited the bitterness of quinine-HCl, Tetralone, and denatonium benzoate (DB) (p < 0.05), but had no significant effect on the bitterness of sucrose octa-acetate, pseudoephedrine (PSE), and dextromethorphan. A second experiment examined the influence of zinc sulfate on bittersweet mixtures. The bitter compounds were DB and PSE, and the sweeteners were sucrose (inhibited by 25 mM zinc sulfate) and Na-cyclamate (not inhibited by zinc sulfate). The combination of zinc sulfate and Na-cyclamate most effectively inhibited DB bitterness (86%) (p < 0.0016), whereas the mixture's inhibition of PSE bitterness was not different from that of Na-cyclamate alone. Conclusion. A combination of Na-cyclamate and zinc sulfate was most effective at inhibiting bitterness. Thus, the combined use of peripheral oral and central cognitive bitterness reduction strategies should be particularly effective for improving the flavor profile of bitter-tasting foods and pharmaceutical formulations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1970-1977
Number of pages8
JournalPharmaceutical research
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2005
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Pharmacology (medical)


  • Bitterness
  • Human psychophysics
  • Na-cyclamate
  • Sweetness
  • Taste
  • Zinc

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