How Temperature Affects Food Flavors

For the molecular gastronomist, freezing things in liquid nitrogen does more than create unusual forms and textures: It affects the taste as well.

A new study published in the journal Chemosensory Perception found that food temperatures would affect how intense a flavor was.

For instance, bitterness was more intense in cold solutions, while sour flavors were more intense in warm solutions. Sweetness perception, however, wasn't affected by temperature.

The study asked 74 participants of varying taste sensitivities to try sweet, sour, bitter, and astringent (sharp, like cranberry juice) flavors at 41 degrees and 95 degrees. They were asked to rate the intensity of flavor over a period of time.

Surprisingly, while bitterness was more intense in cold food, the intensity of flavor decreased at a quicker rate. Astringency, or sharpness, was more intense and lasted longer in warm solutions.

Meanwhile, sweetness intensity peaked at the same level regardless of temperature, but in cold solutions it took longer to reach maximum sweetness.

Even more fascinating is that some tasters don't even need flavor for the experience. "Temperature alone can elicit taste sensations," study authors write. "These individuals seem to be more sensitive to tastes in general." But for us regular folks, heating up that lemonade might not be a great idea.