Wednesday, 12 October 2016

flavourant or acquired taste

Sometimes what some might dismiss as being overly fretful or a moral-panic (which have always been with us but it seems that the 1980s were especially punctuated with them—particularly of the infernal variety with satanic recruitment drives and sacrifice lurking everywhere) have positive consequences, as was the case for the singular campaign that the intrepid crew of Atlas Obscura features in the story about the worse-tasting substance known to science. Although flavours on human magnitudes tend to be fairly subjective, denatonium (commercially known as Bitrex or BITTERANT-b) lies so far off the scale as to be absolutely intolerable even in the smallest doses.
The bitterness that it awakes in the taste buds is no jalapeño-challenge with a teaspoon being enough to “poison” an entire well with a lingering after-taste that makes the water (or any other victim of this chemical condiment) unpotable. Unwholesomely, this compound was created in the 1950s as sort of biological, non-lethal weapon that could be dusted on enemy food-supplies to render them inedible. As what’s on the table was plied with more palatable artificial-flavours, this bitter-pill was more or less forgotten about, until the mid-80s when our single campaigner and public-safety advocate recognised that Bitrex could be added to household cleaners to stop children and pets from ingesting a harmful amount of a toxic substance, too repulsed by the taste. The moral-panic aspect comes into the narrative here as well—while no preventable poisoning is acceptable, the number of cases were probably the stuff of urban-legend. Closer to describing a tragedy as it transpired and neglect in the industry were the number of cases of young children and dogs drinking sugary tasting anti-freeze, a product that didn’t fully adopt Bitrex until the mid-90s, despite consumer concerns. Now denatonium is a universal standard—the untasted and accidental flavour intensifier, that seasons anything we’re meant to keep away from our mouths.