When it comes to basic tastes (saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, sourness, and umami), I can easily think of very basic ingredients that could be considered the essence of a given taste, something that you can add to any meal and potentiate that specific taste:

  • For sweetness, we have sugar.
  • For saltiness, we have salt.
  • For umami, we have monosodium glutamate.

I have doubts regarding sourness. At first I thought about vinegar or lemon juice, but both ingredients do modify the flavor of meals you add them into (and not just potentiate a given taste). And regarding bitterness, I just have no clue. Note that I am speaking about ingredients (something you can find in a kitchen), and not about chemical compounds in general.

So what ingredients can be considered the essence of sourness and bitterness?

3 Answers 3


About any acid will deliver a sour taste from H+, along with whatever taste the corresponding anion brings along. Most alkaloids are bitter.The term covers a wide range of different chemicals, mostly including nitrogen qnd oxygen as part of their structure. There are likely quite a few bitter compounds which are not alkaloids, but none spring to mind at the moment. Bitter is a far more complex response than sour or sweet.

  • 1
    Some pure amino acids are perceived as bitter, and they are not alkaloids. Also, tannins. Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 0:30

Citric or lactic acid solutions are both neutral flavored organic acids; acids are what cause a perception of sourness. A caffeine solution can be used as a neutral bitter flavor standard. While not common in the kitchen, the acids are available in the US in homebrewing stores, and caffeine in a pharmacy.


Here is a small list of herbs that provide bitterness, thyme, marjoram, lovage, rosemary, tarragon, bay leaves, sorrel, sage- If you want more bitterness and your recipe calls for these herbs- you might try increasing the amount of these herbs till you like the taste or achieve the result you are looking for, Alternatively- if you heat lemon juice it will tone down the actual lemon flavor and turn bitter. Sourness can be found in these foods- citrus fruits (such as lemon and limes), sour milk products (like yogurt, cheese, and sour cream), and fermented substances (including wine, vinegar, pickles, sauerkraut, and soy sauce). Again I would recommend that you simply increase the amounts of these foods in your recipe, Alternatively, I would recommend that you use a store bought artificial flavoring like lactic acid or fumaric acid, OR you could infuse regular white vinegar or a lightly flavored vinegar(such as apple cider or champagne vinegar) with fresh herbs(specifically one or more of those that are called for in your recipe.) I hope you get your conundrum solved....:-)

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