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Does caffeine really taste like anything?
March 17, 2011 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Does caffeine really taste like anything? And if not, why does caffeine free soda (specifically Caffeine Free Diet Coke on my desk) taste so much worse than the caffeinated version?
posted by werty to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've been told that caffeine is bitter, and as an additive, it mitigates the insipidness of sweet soda. Hence the popularity of other sodas with bitter additive (tonic with quinine) that no longer has any practical application.
posted by toodleydoodley at 1:24 PM on March 17, 2011


According to this study, you shouldn't be noticing a difference.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:24 PM on March 17, 2011


Yes, it's fairly bitter. In many soft drinks it's added as a flavour agent as much as a stimulant.
posted by GuyZero at 1:25 PM on March 17, 2011


I drink both and don't notice a difference. Maybe its you.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:25 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Caffeine pills taste horribly bitter, but that could be other elements that are in the pills, I can't say for sure.
posted by utsutsu at 1:27 PM on March 17, 2011


I always thought decaffeinated tea and cola tasted skewed because the process that removed the caffeine affected the volatile compounds that contribute to the full, complex flavour of the drink.
posted by maudlin at 1:27 PM on March 17, 2011


but that could be other elements that are in the pills, I can't say for sure.

As a high school science experiment I isolated caffeine to measure the relative caffeine content of a few different beverages and I tasted a little bit of the result. It's bitter.

I always thought decaffeinated tea and cola tasted skewed because the process that removed the caffeine affected the volatile compounds that contribute to the full, complex flavour of the drink.

Yes for decaf coffee, not so much for cola where caffeine is just one of many ingredients.
posted by GuyZero at 1:29 PM on March 17, 2011


In many soft drinks it's added as a flavour agent as much as a stimulant.

That's the legal justification for it, but it's kind of bullshit. You can't really taste the difference in most colas.
posted by empath at 1:30 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can smell the difference between caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, not to mention taste it. It is hard to put into words, but essentially decaffeinated items taste and smell less sharp, less vivid, and less rich. I think I'm smelling and tasting what maudlin is describing.
posted by bearwife at 1:30 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't like Diet Pepsi, but I really like Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi. On the opposite side, I can't taste a difference in Diet Dr. Pepper or Caffeine Free Diet Dr. Pepper.

So it might be the any changes to the soda they made in addition to removing the caffeine.
posted by royalsong at 1:36 PM on March 17, 2011


Caffeine is considered one of the most bitter-tasting edible substances, and is often used as a benchmark of bitterness in other flavorants.
posted by General Malaise at 1:36 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always thought decaffeinated tea and cola tasted skewed because the process that removed the caffeine affected the volatile compounds that contribute to the full, complex flavour of the drink.

This is true of naturally caffeine-containing beverages like coffee, where the beans have to undergo a chemical process by which the caffeine is removed. In colas, however, the caffeine is an independently added ingredient, and there is no process by which the caffeine is removed from a caffeine-containing soda to generate a caffeine-free soda - the caffeine simply isn't added in the first place. Thus, this explanation doesn't work for beverages like sodas.

The word caffeine no longer appears to hold meaning for me after typing it that many times. Caffeine. Caffeine.
posted by amelioration at 1:37 PM on March 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


Having tasted caffeinated Butterfingers I can confidently say that caffeine has a flavor and that it's fairly awful. Definitely bitter.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:42 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, do soda makers simply leave out the caffeine or are they making other changes in the caffeine-free version to compensate for the loss of bittering?
posted by tommasz at 1:42 PM on March 17, 2011


I told someone that I loathed the bitter taste of coffee and she said, "Try decaf, what's making it bitter is the caffeine." So I tried decaf. I still don't like the taste of coffee, but that really was what the bitter was coming from.

Soda, on the other hand, is sugared up all to hell so that you don't notice it as much.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:46 PM on March 17, 2011


So there is no cola (kola?) nut going into colas these days? It's all artificial cola flavour and caffeine added separately?
posted by maudlin at 1:47 PM on March 17, 2011


I can always taste the difference between caffeinated drinks and non-caffeinated drinks. I can't stand the taste of decaf coffee or decaf sodas, so there MUST be something to it.
posted by patheral at 2:05 PM on March 17, 2011


It's an alkaloid. It should taste bitter.
posted by clarknova at 2:06 PM on March 17, 2011


Some people are sensitive to the taste of caffeine and similar bitter substances ("tasters") and some are not ("non-tasters"):

A predisposition to having either relatively high (nontasters) or low (supertasters) thresholds for a class of bitter compounds that include PTC (phenylthiourea) and PROP (6-n -propylthiouracil) have been observed and linked both genetically (Fisher, 1967;Reed et al., 1995) and pathologically (Bartoshuket al.,1996). Additionally, research has shown that nontasters have reduced sensitivity to other chemical classes such as caffeine (Hallet al.,1975), sucrose and saccharine (Bartoshuk, 1979). Scaling methods have revealed that it is not always just a simple case of nontasters having a diminished ability to taste certain substances, as is indicated by threshold measurement, but that they in fact have what resembles a recruitment effect.

Yes, caffeine has a flavor. Different people have different levels of sensitivity to it. The bitter aftertaste of some artificial sweeteners works the same way. Some people taste it very distinctly, others not at all. Lots of people waste time arguing about these issues, when in fact both sides are equally right.
posted by Corvid at 2:19 PM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've used pure, powdered caffeine and it tasted awful. Not just bitter... it was like rancid chemicals. Now that I recognize the flavor, I can taste it in caffeinated Coke.
posted by Sifleandollie at 2:22 PM on March 17, 2011


I've had pure caffeine powder as well. It was bitter, although I didn't find it to be as bad as sifleandollie.
posted by zug at 2:27 PM on March 17, 2011


Even in drinks that are already bitter in their own right, I can taste caffeination. E.g. I find that normal coffee has a "bite" for me whereas decaf doesn't. Caffeine leaves a slightly adstringent feeling in my mouth, somewhat similar to those disgusting nicotine chewing gums, although much weaker. Decaf diet coke just tastes non-carbonated to me (i.e. "flat").
posted by The Toad at 3:14 PM on March 17, 2011


FWIW decaffeinated soda just tastes blah to me. I love Diet Coke but Diet Coke decaf is ugh.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:49 PM on March 17, 2011


Is the caffeinated soda you are drinking diet or regular? If it is regular, perhaps you are tasting the artificial sweetener in the Diet Coke. I can taste sucralose very strongly and think anything it is in tastes terrible. I'm not sure what sweetener is being used in Diet Coke these days.
posted by unannihilated at 5:43 PM on March 17, 2011


I was just thinking it might be the artificial sweeteners. I think they taste terrible, and some gave me migraines. Every time I drank a can of Sierra Mist Free I'd get a migraine, so I don't drink diet pop anymore.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:47 AM on March 18, 2011


I have some caffeine tablets that I bought off of eBay (cheaper than Proplus). They taste ever so slightly bitter. I use them to help me wake up in the morning and I'm not a big fan of espresso which has the same amount of caffeine as the pill I take but is very very bitter.
posted by mikeanegus at 4:22 AM on March 18, 2011


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