mmm cheese
February 10, 2012 5:07 PM   Subscribe

Why does cheese taste better when it is melted?
posted by Happydaz to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I think this is kind of subjective. like, I think cheese tastes great no matter what state it's in.

But our tongues don't sense flavor nearly as well when foods are cold. Also the process of heating cheese creates new flavors (via browning/crisping) or part of it's molecular composition breaks down.

Same reason any cooked food tastes differently then it's raw state. The act of adding heat changes the food at a molecular level.
posted by royalsong at 5:12 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think taste is as much about texture as it is about actual flavours. Creamy textured foods always taste better to me. I wonder whether some of that is that our bodies know we need liquid to survive, and reward us with pleasure for eating things that contain more liquid. Same reason why high calorie food tastes great, really.
posted by lollusc at 5:20 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Not that melted cheese does contain more liquid, of course. But our tastebuds "know" that creamy food usually contains more liquid than solid foods do.)
posted by lollusc at 5:20 PM on February 10, 2012

I think it's just because it has all the delicious umami of cheese, plus a creamy mouthfeel. Also, fats carry flavour, and melting the cheese makes the fat more accessible to the tongue.
posted by hot soup girl at 5:36 PM on February 10, 2012

Well, I know that as you melt cheese, you get rid of some of the water and oils. That why cheese gets weird when it re-solidifies after you melt it. Also, if you go a bit further and brown it, you get the ever delicious Maillard Reaction.
posted by Garm at 5:41 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Aromatic oils vaporize more readily from warm cheese and more easily waft into your olfactory system, enhancing the flavor sensation.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:52 PM on February 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

BP's got it: cheese smells more when it's warm, and taste is actually mostly smell.

We don't like creamy foods because they contain more liquid, we like them because (in general) they contain more fat. If it was the liquid our bodies craved, people would prefer watermelon over butter.
posted by Specklet at 5:59 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

It doesn't... at least, if you're eating cheese of any quality. Melted Swiss, American... what can you expect? But a good Stilton, or Gouda... a different story altogether.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:37 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

This might well be region restricted but it's a programme about cheese by Heston Blumenthal where he explained it fairly thoroughly.
posted by pmcp at 6:44 PM on February 10, 2012

Totally depends on the cheese. Shredded Monterey jack or medium cheddar, sure. Good Cabrales or sharp Irish cheddar, not as much. Some cheeses are meant to be melted, some aren't.

(And if you're comparing against cold cheese, knock it off.)
posted by WasabiFlux at 6:49 PM on February 10, 2012

Most of flavor is smell, not taste. You eat food, and it goes down your throat, and flavor components come off and float up into your nose, where you smell them.

Which is why, in general, hot food tastes better than cold food. Because hot air rises, hot air from hot food goes up into your nose more, yielding a greater sensation of flavor.

(By the way, this has been a problem for astronauts. In free fall, the vapors don't rise, and it turns out that most food tastes like cardboard. Astronauts are allocated a certain small amount of mass for personal property, and a lot of them use it for things like hot sauce, to make the food taste like something.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:17 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

It really depends on the type of cheese, but the smell factor has a lot to do with it. Many cheeses just aren't as fragrant when cold.

(I would kill somebody in front of they own mama for some pepper chevre right now!)
posted by chrisfromthelc at 7:23 PM on February 10, 2012

definitely subjective -- I think almost all cheeses taste much better in their unmelted state!
posted by changeling at 8:42 PM on February 10, 2012

I was specifically referring to a nice sharp Tillamook cheddar. These answers are fascinating, by the way. I knew that smell had a large impact on certain foods, but I didn't realize that it made a difference once the item was in your mouth.
posted by Happydaz at 8:50 PM on February 10, 2012

A sharp Tillamook cheddar? Certainly better when melted. That's when the gooey creaminess and the smooth fat combine to make your mouth so much happier. For me it's the texture thing.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:05 PM on February 10, 2012

You might want to see zingiberene's project post which includes a link to a chapter about cheese science.
posted by gubenuj at 11:34 PM on February 10, 2012

The same reason hard cheese tastes better grated. More surface area, more taste.
posted by Orchestra at 3:26 AM on February 11, 2012

It's most likely mostly a mouthfeel thing, plus perhaps some element of increased volatility of certain aromatics due to the higher heat.

Flavor is not a taste, it's a perception. Meaning that "flavor" is something that's created in our brains out of a combination of many sensory inputs, perceptions, emotions, etc. Smell and taste sensations, of course, have primary importance in the perception of taste. But temperature sensations, texture and "mouthfeel," and chemesthesis play important roles. And, of course, being in a beautiful room, or on a special date with someone you really love, or when you have had a bad day, or when you're either too hot or too cold, etc. can all have an effect not only on the qualitative perceptions of the food but also on how much you like the food.

One reason why smell is so important to flavor (and also the reason why humans eat more slowly than other animals) is "retronasal olfaction." It turns out that our smell receptors go all the way into the back of the nasal cavity, even into the beginning of the oral cavity. And when we chew food (warming it with our body heat, increasing the surface area, etc.) scent molecules actually travel up and into the nasal cavity the back way, where they are sensed by the scent receptors in the back. This is why we continue to have complex flavor perceptions as we are chewing the food, even though no new scent molecules are entering through the front of the nose (this assumes one is chewing with a closed mouth).

So, how does this all impact melted versus non melted cheese? Warming the cheese and melting it certainly could have the effect of releasing more scent molecules. Whether this makes the cheese taste "better" or "worse," however, would be a matter of preference (sometimes the increased release of certain volatile scent molecules would be rated negatively). Similarly, it seems likely that you may simply prefer the mouthfeel and texture of melted cheese over non-melted cheese, and this would also result in a higher rating on the flavor of the cheese.

Personally, for something like a well aged cheddar, I find the texture more pleasing and the overall evolution of the release of flavor in the mouth as I chew more interesting and satisfying when the cheese isn't melted (texture is one of the most important aspects of cheddar, IMO). But that's if I'm just eating the cheddar by itself, perhaps with something to drink and a few pieces of bread. In a sandwich, I find the texture and intensity of flavor a bit off-putting at room temperature and would prefer to have the cheese melted and the sandwich toasted. In this context, however, I am actually decreasing the intensity of the flavor in favor of a desired mouthfeel.
posted by slkinsey at 5:53 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

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