How to

8 March 2017

Does the Temperature of Your Food Affect Taste Intensity?

Do you notice food tastes better when straight out of the oven? Or do you prefer the taste and ease once cooled for a few minutes? While the precise physiological reasoning isn’t yet clear, there have been many studies and much research revealing that food temperature does impact taste, in one way or another.

Professor of molecular and cellular medicine at the University of Leuven, Karel Talavera Pérez, looked into temperature, taste and electrical signals and concluded that “the perception of taste decreases when the temperature rises beyond 35°C.” When food is piping hot, he recognised the electrical activity of our taste nerves respond to the heat and dangers of burning ourselves, before responding to and noticing the tastes and flavours. Almost as if the mindfulness of hurting ourselves ‘masks’ taste, he says, “Perhaps we do taste at such temperatures, but we don't pay attention to it because we become worried about the burning feeling.”

Talavera Pérez also zoomed in on flavour intensities on certain traditionally cold foods, like ice cream and beer. Ice cream is pleasantly sweet when served cold, but if melted and drank, it’d be unpleasant and too sickly for many. He found the reason for this is that the taste receptor which detects sweetness, bitterness and umami, TRPM5, sends stronger signals to the brain when cold foods, like ice-cream, are warmer.

However of the five main tastes, it seems not all are as affected by temperature. A study in 1993 from the Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research, found a correlation between increased temperatures affects perceptions of sweetness, bitterness and umami, while sourness and saltiness tend to remain the same no matter the change in temperature.

The temperature of your mouth before you eat the food could also affect how you taste, which is normally altered by drinks. A 2012 study on drinks which accompany food and their temperature, suggests a possible reason why Americans generally have a preference for highly sweetened food. North-Americans, on the whole, enjoy ice-cold water with a meal, and the study reveals that eating after drinking ice-cold water can decrease sweetness perception. The study reads;

“Following a mouth rinse with water served at 4, 20, and 50°C for 5 s, two different types of food, dark chocolate and cheddar cheese, were evaluated in terms of sensory intensity and overall liking. For the dark chocolate, the intensity ratings for sweetness, chocolate flavour, and creaminess were significantly lower when following water at 4 °C than when following water at either 20 or 50°C.”

The warmer your accompanied drink, the less taste perception is supposedly lost. Therefore the sweetness of food for those who prefer an ice-cold drink needs to be higher to still allow appreciation of the sweet taste and to compensate for the sweetness perception lost.

The research is telling and an interesting look into how you, your tongue and your mind receive flavours in terms of temperature. So whether you’re all about piping-hot-warm-your-plate-up meals, or prefer eating without the fear of burning yourself, there’s no denying that taste intensity does vary, but it is down to personal preference. 

Laura Sewell

An aspiring journalist, Laura is our content writer intern.  Pop-punk gig-goer and drag queen enthusiast, Laura is working her way into the industry, with an English A -Level and love of writing about anything and everything in tow.