A new study takes a fresh look at the understanding of our sense of taste, specifically the perception of bitterness and sweetness.
A team of researchers from Denmark recruited 156 people to explore the impact of coffee on a person’s sense of taste and smell. The study was comparative, and the participants were their own controls.
Baseline tests were conducted to measure initial taste and smell levels. The participants had a cup of lukewarm espresso. Next, they received a cup of tap water to cleanse their palates before their taste and smell were tested a second time. Researchers noted no difference in their sense of smell, but participants’ perception of taste altered. After drinking coffee, they became more susceptible to sweetness and less perceptive to bitterness.
To eliminate the possibility that caffeine could be a factor, the researchers conducted the experiment one more time, but using decaffeinated coffee and observed the same results.
The researchers said, “We already know that our senses have an effect on each other, but it’s a surprise that our registration of sweetness and bitterness is so easily influenced.”
These findings were a surprise as previous studies have proposed that exposure to bitter flavors hinders the perception of sweet tastes. For instance, two compounds found in coffee called caffeine and quinine, have previously found to lower the sensitivity of some sweet taste receptors.
Further research of this issue could shed light on how we regulate the amount of sugar and sweeteners we use as food additives, researchers say. An improved understanding could be used to reduce sugar and calories in food, which would be helpful for several groups, including people with obesity and diabetes.