Caffeine Tempers Taste, Triggering Temptation for Sweets

It may reduce perceived sweet taste in humans.


Caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant that is widely consumed at every sluggish morning. It is a powerful antagonist of adenosine receptors, which promote relaxation and sleepiness.

According to a new study by the Cornell University, the caffeine tempers taste buds, make food and drink less sweet. If restraining this receptor, it awakens people and decreases their ability to taste sweetness.

Scientists demonstrated the taste modulation in the real world. They conducted the study in two parts.

Senior author Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science, “When you drink caffeinated coffee, it will change how you perceive taste for however long that effect lasts. So if you eat food directly after drinking a caffeinated coffee or other caffeinated drinks, you will likely perceive food differently.”

During the first part, one group sampled decaffeinated coffee with 200 milligrams of caffeine with sugar. The stimulant was added to make that group’s coffee consistent with real-life amounts of caffeine.

Other group drank just decaffeinated coffee with sugar. Panelists who drank the caffeinated brew rated it as less sweet.

During the second part, participants disclosed their level of alertness. They then asked to estimate the amount of caffeine in their coffee.

Panelists reported the same increase in alertness after drinking either the caffeinated or decaffeinated samples, all the while panelists could not predict if they had consumed the decaffeinated or the caffeinated version.

Dando said, “We think there might be a placebo or a conditioning effect to the simple act of drinking coffee. Think Pavlov’s dog. The act of drinking coffee with the aroma and taste is usually followed by alertness. So the panelists felt alert even if the caffeine was not there.”

“What seems to be important is the action of drinking that coffee. Just the act of thinking that you’ve done the things that make you feel more awake, makes you feel more awake.”

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