Humans have been drinking carbonated water since at least 1767 and the trend doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. So why do we like the sparkling stuff so much? The answer might surprise you.
Sour Taste Cells
There is a certain enzyme, called carbonic anhydrase, which sits on our sour-sensing taste cells. Adding CO2 to water results in the creation of carbonic acid, which is tasted by these cells and reacts with the enzyme to cause that familiar popping feeling. This enzyme could be what causes this unique sensation.
Research has shown that the more carbon dioxide in a drink, the higher the perceived coldness, while cooling the water itself actually increases irritation. This indicates some kind of relationship between a carbonated drink’s “bite” and an enjoyable cooling sensation, though the underlying chemical process is not completely clear.
The ‘Danger’ Theory
The theory goes that there must be a reason why humans enjoy carbonated beverages but other mammals don’t. Research has shown that mice, horses and other animals do not like carbonated water. It has been proposed that this is due to an ability to detect the potentially harmful things that emit carbon dioxide, like rotting food. Psychologist Paul Rozin argues that the consumption of spicy food is an example of people enjoying situations in which their bodies sense danger when they know they are really okay. Same, the idea goes, for carbonated water.
Bubbles within a drink are known to convey aromatic compounds up to the drinker’s nose, which creates a heightened experience of flavor. The bubbles moving upwards through liquid in the mouth also create that pleasant, tingling sensation on the tongue. So they tend to make the drink taste better, as well as causing that interesting “popping” feeling.
Interesting fact – The bubbles in carbonated drinks are formed through a phase change (from liquid to gas) that happens at small points in the glass (gas pockets). These pockets are formed by imperfections in the glass. So if you use a scratched or dirty glass, you will therefore create more bubbles.
Whatever the reason, you can’t deny that sparkling drinks are awesome. If only there was a sparkling water that offered the fizzy goodness of bubbles, fruit flavors and natural caffeine with no artificial flavors, no calories and no sugar. Oh wait, there is!