Medicine

Bitrex Is The Most Bitter Substance In The World

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What's the most bitter thing you've ever tasted? Coffee, kale, or maybe even dark chocolate? Imagine that pungent flavor multiplied exponentially. That's Denatonium Benzoate (Bitrex, to use its brand name). It was named the world's bitterest substance by the Guinness Book of World Records.

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So What The Heck Is It?

Bitrex was originally discovered by pharmaceutical company Macfarlan Smith in 1958 while researching anesthetics. According to the Bitrex website, the chemical compound is so bitter that if you dropped a thimble-full into an Olympic-sized swimming pool, you'd still be able to taste it in the water. The U.S. Army even reported that this substance could be used in chemical warfare to make food supplies inedible. But, guess what? It's currently being used in at least 60 countries.

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Here's Why It's Still A Thing

Although the substance was rejected as an anesthetic, its extremely bitter taste has an advantage: adding it to dangerous products makes them less appealing to children and animals. Accidental poison ingestion was a big problem in the 1980s, so concerned mothers like Lynn Tylczak advocated for Bitrex to be added to dangerous household products. The compound itself is harmless; it just tastes really, really horrible. In 1995, the U.S. state of Oregon passed a law requiring Bitrex to be added to antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid. Now you can find Bitrex listed as a prominent ingredient in several common poisonous products, ranging from perfumes to household cleaners. This bitter accident is helping to save lives!

Want to try Bitrex for yourself? Order a taste test here (you can even win prizes by sharing it on social media). To give you an idea, here's what Tylczak told The New York Times: "I took a tiny taste of Bitrex and my mouth tasted like a place where old spiders go to die." Good luck.

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Watch And Learn: Dangerous Substances

Making The Most Bitter Compound Known

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. During WWII, the Nazis discontinued testing “Substance N” because it was too dangerous. 00:01

  2. Azidoazide azide is the most explosive chemical compound ever created. 03:00

  3. Thioacetone is the world's smelliest chemical. 07:11

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