Acid, not bubbles, responsible for distinctive ‘bite’ of carbonated beverages, researchers reveal

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Posted August 22, 2013

Acid, not bubbles, responsible for distinctive 'bite' of carbonated beverages, researchers reveal

New research from the Monell Center reveals that bubbles are not necessary to experience the unique ‘bite’ of carbonated beverages. Bubbles do, however, enhance carbonation’s bite through the light feel of the bubbles picked up by our sense of touch.

The refreshing bite of carbonation is an integral part of beverages consumed around the globe. Carbonated beverages are produced when carbon dioxide is dissolved in a liquid, typically under high pressure. This can happen naturally in certain spring waters or in fermented beverages like beer. Carbon dioxide also can be added to beverages through production processes.

In either case, when pressure is reduced by opening a bottle or can of a carbonated beverage, some of the carbon dioxide is released from the solution in the form of bubbles. After a sip, enzymes in the mouth convert the remaining free carbon dioxide into carbonic acid. The acid then activates sensory nerve endings, which signal the mild irritation that we refer to as ‘bite.’

In the study, published in the public access journal PLOS ONE, the Monell researchers examined the role that bubbles play in carbonation bite. In the first experiment, they took advantage of the fact that bubbles cannot form when atmospheric pressure is raised above a certain level.

Twelve healthy adults were comfortably seated in a hyperbaric chamber and asked to rate the bite intensity of several concentrations of carbonated water. The ratings were collected once while under normal atmospheric pressure (with bubbles) and a second time at higher pressure (no bubbles), equivalent to diving to a depth of 33 feet in sea water.


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