The Secret to Why People Love Carbonated Beverages

by | Feb 23, 2016 | Food & Drink

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There is no secret to the fact that people love carbonated beverages. It’s pretty much a given fact – if the snap-crackle-pop of a can of cola doesn’t prove its appeal in its own right, then the fact that there’s been a very large statistical incline in the production and consumption of carbonated beverages might.

In China – a relatively new market – the operating revenue for fizzy drink producers has gone from roughly $4 billion in 2008 to $11.6 billion in 2012, and a projected $15.8 billion in 2020, according to data on Statista. That’s some serious financial growth, and a very promising future.

Regardless of culture, beliefs, nationality or heritage, we all seem to love our fizzy drinks and soda pops – but why? What’s the mechanism behind that deliciousness that fades the second the drink goes “flat”?

The Sugar
The first mechanism for addiction is sugar. Flat sodas are blatantly sweet, almost syrupy – but when diffused by the presence of carbonation, it’s harder to detect the incredible sweetness of some fizzy drinks, as this study shows. Instead, we interpret the drink as sour. This allows the body to continue craving that amazing sugar rush, without the tongue harshly rejecting the ingestion of such high amounts of sugar. It tastes good, but too much is too much – unless it’s a little gassy.

The Bite
That gas brings in the other addiction mechanism that is almost surprising – pain. When the tongue and throat are subjected to the slight crack and pop of a soda can’s contents, our oral receptors all signal a significant amount of pain – a bite, as it’s known. The same bite is felt in extremely sour drinks, or during the ingestion of hazardous chemicals.

The Fizz
For sodas, it’s the carbon dioxide doing its thing. Carbon dioxide comes in contact with a protein enzyme in our mouth, and turns into acid – and that acid triggers the tongue’s receptors, sending a signal of pain into our brain. Further experimentation showed that the difference between pain and pleasure in the mouth’s pain receptors is a subtle one, such as how we perceive cinnamon, which sets off the same receptors as the converted acid. The key to a great soda, then, is proper carbonating through a quality beverage carbonator.

Research also showed that it’s the CO2 – not the bubbles – that cause the bite. Testers were asked to drink carbonated soda in a hyperbaric chamber, eliminating the bubbles and essentially making the drink go flat, without removing the CO2 from it. The bite remained.

Ultimately, it’s the same tale as chili – capsaicin is produced in plants to deter us and other mammals, yet we actively seek spice and pain in our food. Peculiar, yet at the same time, completely normal.

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