Why is the best part of a homemade popsicle the melted part?
June 5, 2011 4:06 PM   Subscribe

Homemade popsicle filter: why does melted popsicle taste better than frozen popsicle?

Boyfriend and I are having a dispute. Oh popsicle-loving citizens of Ask Metafilter, perhaps you can help?

Yesterday we bought a set of these No-Spill Sip-A-Pop Ice Pop Popsicle Molds and filled them with lemonade made from concentrate. Today as we were eating our popsicles we noticed that the melted liquid we could sip through the handy sip-a-pop straw (located in the plastic handle, below the body of the popsicle itself) tasted more lemonade-y than the frozen parts of the popsicle.

My theory: ice dulls your tastebuds, so the frozen parts of the popsicle taste less intense than the melted lemonade. Both the frozen and melted parts of the popsicle are essentially the same stuff.

His theory: the concentrate has a lower melting point than the water itself, so the melted concentrate trickles down to the handle first, leaving the water behind in the frozen popsicle. The melted liquid is less diluted than the frozen part.

Another possible but jointly-agreed-upon-to-be-unlikely theory: the concentrate somehow floats to the top of the popsicle during freezing, making it closer to the handle during consumption, meaning it melts first and tastes stronger.
posted by rebekah to Food & Drink (16 answers total)
Your theory and his theory are both stronger than your agreed-unlikely theory.

But you could test it by carefully collecting the drips and weighing equal volumes of drips and (melted) remaining popsicle; the concentrate should be heavier than the water.
posted by novalis_dt at 4:25 PM on June 5, 2011

It's your theory, so far as I know. Things that are colder taste less sweet than things which are warmer. This is the same reason that ice cream that's well balanced when frozen tastes overly sweet when melted.

I don't have anything other than vague internet cites, but the dulled taste buds seem to be the accepted reason why.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:27 PM on June 5, 2011

I think you're both wrongly, unfortunately. Sugar tastes sweeter when it's warm - it's why you need to make your custard for homemade ice cream sweeter than you think you do. This is one of the better explanations I could find: .

But yeah, in general, heat makes sweet things taste sweeter. (It does not actually make them sweeter.)
posted by punchtothehead at 4:27 PM on June 5, 2011

Both of those theories sound possible... Thinking about warm/cold chocolate, I can definitely see where you're coming from. However, I've also experienced something that looks a lot like his theory when eating homemade popsicles. Have you ever sucked on a popsicle, and seen the color fade away but the shape remain the same? I've noticed that with many homemade popsibles you can kind of.. suck out the juice and leave just the ice intact.
posted by one little who at 4:30 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

My link got borked, and I can't get it to work - search google for "warm ice cream taste sweeter" and it's the first link.
posted by punchtothehead at 4:32 PM on June 5, 2011

@punchtothehead: I think you're backing up my theory, actually. I'm saying that the melted liquid and the frozen popsicle are the same thing in terms of sugar levels, but the melted liquid tastes sweeter. This seems to be what you're saying re: warm vs. cold ice cream...?

@novalis_dt: Boyfriend likes your approach.
posted by rebekah at 4:39 PM on June 5, 2011

Sugar does taste sweeter the warmer it is. That's why I don't store fruit in the fridge, or if I do I pull it out and set it on the counter for an hour or so before I eat it.
posted by ValkoSipuliSuola at 4:47 PM on June 5, 2011

Well, I can conclusively prove that your theory is correct, rebekah: There is an Encyclopedia Brown story where a kid gains an unfair advantage by eating ice to desensitize his taste buds. You see, there's a contest where a bunch of kids try to drink something vile--mustard and something else--and whoever can do it with the least reaction wins (or something like that). I tried to find the story online but failed. Anyway, QED. (That's how proof works, right?)

I think, however, that your boyfriend's theory is also correct. I base this on by personal experience of putting soda in the freezer to cool it down. I've done this a number of times over the years and not always remember to retrieve the bottle in time; when the bottle is partially frozen, it's quite clear that the frozen part has little to no syrup in it and the unfrozen part is correspondingly more concentrated. Quite a bit more concentrated, in fact--the difference is very noticeable.

And here's a third factor that may be at play--when you lick the frozen part you're not actually consuming that much. When you sip the run-off I would guess that you're consuming much more volume per second, so it makes sense that the flavor is more intense.

I suspect you and your boyfriend are both correct. However... I would guess that his theory is making a greater contribution to the sweetness gap.
posted by kprincehouse at 5:01 PM on June 5, 2011

Most of "flavor" is sense of smell, not classic sense of taste. Things that are warm vaporize off flavor components faster and better, so they taste more intense.

They can also taste different, because the evaporation rate for different flavor components doesn't scale the same with temperature.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:15 PM on June 5, 2011

Check out Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking - he confirms punchtothehead is right - the taste of sugar is not as intense when cold.

When we make homemade custard-based ice cream, we always have to add 1/4 more sugar to the ice cream base make the frozen version taste as good as the lower-sugar version does when warm.
posted by guster4lovers at 5:23 PM on June 5, 2011

I think the main process going on here is freeze concentration, in which solutes are concentrated as the water crystallizes into ice. This is also known as "salting out". It's a big deal for ice cream manufacturers, and it's why you need to stir ice cream during freezing, or break up your pan of sorbet several times with a fork, so that everything freezes homogeneously.

Otherwise you get exactly what you had with your popsicles: a layer of mostly water ice on top of an unfrozen syrup where most of the flavor is.

If you want to get all thermodynamical about it, start by reading up on freezing point depression. Geeks in the kitchen represent!
posted by Quietgal at 5:25 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want to test the effect of temperature, you can take your popsicle and separate the frozen icy part from the unfrozen syrup. Let both come to room temperature and taste them. Do they taste equally sweet and lemony when they're both at the same temperature? I'll bet you an ice cream cone that they don't.
posted by Quietgal at 5:29 PM on June 5, 2011

His theory is closer to the mark though not stated quite correctly. Freezing forces anything not-water out of the crystalline matrix of ice. The ice that is left behind after a frozen aqueous solution thaws will always be closer to pure water than the initial solution. The physics underlying these facts are used as a commercial method of desalination in places where natural temperatures get low enough to freeze salt water: look up "freeze thaw desalination".

This theory would actually be easy enough to test: just allow some popsicles to melt, collecting the melted portions every certain number of minutes in segregated dixie cups or whatever, then allow them to come to room temperature, then taste them. If this theory is correct the earlier portions should be substantially sweeter and the later portions should be progressively nearer to just water.

These principles were illustrated in an episode of The Voyage of the Mimi, incidentally, which, as little Ben Affleck's first acting role, trumps (I regret to say) kprincehouse's citation of Encyclopedia Brown. Or, on preview, pretty much what Quietgal said.

Holy crap all the episodes of Voyage of the Mimi are on YouTube.
posted by nanojath at 5:46 PM on June 5, 2011

I don't think it's totally the ice. I was taught a long time ago in some cooking classes that the everything tastes duller the colder it is. Cold - not necessarily frozen. That's why you shouldn't season a soup while it's cold if you are going to eat it hot. That's why you shouldn't drink ice cold beer or wine.

I'll admit I don't know the science, though.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:01 PM on June 5, 2011

nanojath gets best answer, with points to kprincehouse for Encyclopedia Brown. Though I'd like to think there's something to my sweeter-when-warmer theory. So maybe gold star for boyfriend, bronze-ish star for me?

Thanks, all!
posted by rebekah at 6:03 PM on June 5, 2011

You should test your theory too by icing your tongues and then tasting the melt and seeing if it tastes less.
posted by nanojath at 6:12 PM on June 5, 2011

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