60-Second Science

Flavors Fluctuate with Temperature

Chilling or heating bitter, sour, sweet and astringent solutions changed their flavor intensity in different ways. Sophie Bushwick reports

Does an ice-cold drink actually taste better than the same beverage at room temperature? Depends on what its taste is: a new study finds that the intensity of some flavors varies with temperature. The work is in the journal Chemosensory Perception. [Martha R. Bajec, Gary J. Pickering and Nancy DeCourville, "Influence of Stimulus Temperature on Orosensory Perception and Variation with Taste Phenotype"]

Researchers took solutions that tasted bitter, sour, sweet, or astringent—a flavor found in legumes and raw produce that creates a dry, puckering feel in the mouth. They either chilled the solutions to 5 degrees Celsius, the recommended temperature for keeping food cool…or heated the solutions to 35 degrees Celsius, a couple degrees below human body temperature. Volunteers then rated the tastes.

Both sour and astringent solutions tasted stronger at warm temperatures, and the intensity lasted longer than it did with chilled drinks. Bitter flavors came through best when chilled. And temperature had no effect on perception of sweetness.

For most people, temperature can enhance flavors. But for some, dubbed thermal tasters, temperature alone can be a flavor. Heating or cooling parts of the tongue creates the sensation of taste without food—a finding that’s hard to swallow.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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