The evolution of sour taste

Hannah E.R. Frank, Katie Amato, Michelle Trautwein, Paula Maia, Emily R. Liman, Lauren M. Nichols, Kurt Schwenk, Paul A.S. Breslin, Robert R. Dunn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The evolutionary history of sour taste has been little studied. Through a combination of literature review and trait mapping on the vertebrate phylogenetic tree, we consider the origin of sour taste, potential cases of the loss of sour taste, and those factors that might have favoured changes in the valence of sour taste - from aversive to appealing. We reconstruct sour taste as having evolved in ancient fish. By contrast to other tastes, sour taste does not appear to have been lost in any major vertebrate taxa. For most species, sour taste is aversive. Animals, including humans, that enjoy the sour taste triggered by acidic foods are exceptional. We conclude by considering why sour taste evolved, why it might have persisted as vertebrates made the transition to land and what factors might have favoured the preference for sour-tasting, acidic foods, particularly in hominins, such as humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20211918
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1968
StatePublished - 2022


  • acidity
  • evolution
  • fermentation
  • sour
  • taste

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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