You’re at the store, looking for something refreshing to drink after a hot day. You’d probably head to the cooler first, for something chilled to quench your thirst. What if your only option was a room temperature drink instead? Does the temperature of a drink or food make a difference with how we perceive its taste and flavor? Here’s a short activity to try that will get you thinking about whether temperature has the ability to “hack your taste buds.”
You will need:
- One piece of a chewable sweet candy
- One piece of a chewable sour candy
- Cup with one or two ice cubes
- Bite the piece of chewable sweet candy in half. Set one half aside. Chew and swallow the first half. Observe how sweet it tastes.
- Place an ice cube in your mouth and move it around in your mouth until your tongue feels chilled.
- Put the ice cube back in the cup. Quickly put the second half of the sweet candy in your mouth. Chew and swallow it. Observe how sweet it tastes. Did it taste sweeter, less sweet, or did the level of sweetness stay the same?
- Repeat steps 1 through 3, but use a chewable sour candy this time and note how sour it tastes before and after you use the ice cube. Did it taste more sour, less sour, or did the level of sourness stay the same?
What’s going on? Researchers have discovered how temperature can affect our sensitivity for a particular taste. In 2005, a group reported that microscopic channels in our taste buds are sensitive to changes in temperature. At lower temperatures, the channels don’t open as much; at higher temperatures, they open more. The more the channels open, the stronger the electrical signal that gets sent to your brain about the taste you’re experiencing. (http://www.news-medical.net/news/2005/12/15/15033.aspx)
One common example is the amount of sugar that manufacturers put into ice cream. Since you’ll probably want to eat the ice cream when it’s at a cold temperature, it won’t taste as sweet as it would be at a higher temperature. More sugar needs to be put into the ice cream so that our brain perceives the desired amount of sweetness at this lower temperature. You could test this by leaving a scoop of ice cream to melt and warm to room temperature, then taste it compared to frozen ice cream.
You could also try it with other items. Chill a can of sweetened soda and leave a second can of the same soda at room temperature. Compare the taste of the two sodas. Or, add salt to taste to a soup. Then, chill a small amount and heat a small amount. Does the level of saltiness taste different between the two samples?
Want to hack your taste buds some more? Check out these other activities: