Whatever this article goes on to say, Coffee must be the most over-studied drink – it seems like every day we get hit with another study about it curing cancer, liver disease, or maybe even killing us. However, there is plenty of studying left to, because there’s a lot about coffee we don’t yet understand. In fact, this article is about how its changing the way we are able to taste things.
/READ MORE // InfoGraphic: How Much Caffeine Is In My Coffee
Despite the fact that coffee – well, caffeine – is one of the most widely consumed drugs, there hasn’t been much study into how it affects our taste buds. A team of researchers at Cornell University has previously reported that adenosine – the sleep-inducing chemical that caffeine blocks – seems to have a brother receptor in taste buds – at least in mice. The researchers tested caffeine’s effects on humans and noticed it seems to have an effect on how human subjects perceive sweetness. And that’s not just in coffee but in other foods also.
“People think they were born with a sweet tooth or don’t like a certain thing…Maybe taste is much more plastic than that.”
-Robin Dando, Lead Author, Cornell
The Cornell study went on to question just how much effect caffeine has over a placebo.
The study went on to test 107 participants at Cornell, and around half drank sweetened decaf with the caffeine added back in on the first day – as a control. The other half drank the sweetened decaf with quinine to replace the bittern flavour, and then tasted other flavours including sweet, sour, bitter and salt. Neither group knew what they would be drinking, and a second session reversed which cups each participant received.
The study was published in the Journal of Food Science
“I think the fact that you may be changing how your food tastes if you drink it with coffee is an interesting offshoot of this,”
– Robin Dando.
What this means for your everyday routine is that your breakfast may not taste quite the same as it does if you eat it with a cup of coffee.
The study had one more strange nugget to offer: since the study had a large number of participants already drinking caffeine versus decaf coffees, they also decided to use the group to test how alert the respondent felt after drinking. It turns out that the participants felt an equal surge in alertness, regardless of if they drank decaf or not. This could be the result of the placebo effect, or perhaps behavioural conditioning: you’ve used caffeinated coffee to wake up for so long, you’ll feel the effects regardless of whether or not there is caffeine in your java.
There are some limitations to this study: it’s participants were only a quarter male and the vast majority were under 40. Also, while the study focused on participants drinking coffee rather than tasting caffeine, there could be other factors that had no control. The study also did not control for other conditions that could have affected adenosine receptors – like anxiety prior to a study.