The reverse-Goldilocks phenomenon
May 25, 2007 8:25 PM   Subscribe

Why do people seem to prefer food that's very cold or very hot to food that's more of a medium temperature?

You often hear: "Don't let your dinner [or coffee, etc.] get cold!" "Oh no, this beer [or soda, etc.] is warm!"

On the positive side, people love a "nice cold [beverage]" or a "piping hot [meal]," whereas you don't hear people exulting over a "nice lukewarm [anything]."

To be sure, there are exceptions. Cheese is good at room temperature, for instance. But for the most part, there seems to be a universally shared understanding that there's something special about foods and beverages that are either very hot or very cold, and that they shouldn't be allowed to drift into the middle zone.

Why? Is there any scientific basis for this?
posted by Jaltcoh to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hot and food cold, I'm assuming, contain less bacterial growth than lukewarm food, assuming the foods are either cold because they were refrigerated or hot because they were cooked. Might be why it is preferred.
posted by Loto at 8:32 PM on May 25, 2007

I disagree. I put hot food in the freezer till they're lukewarm before I consume it.

The only cold foods that I enjoy are the ones that are necessarily so, like icecream and cold beverages.
posted by BeaverTerror at 8:33 PM on May 25, 2007

Best answer: In part because temperature can change the taste of some foods, so they just don't taste as good lukewarm as they do hot or cold. The texture of food changes as it cools/warms too, and that can definitely decrease the enjoyability.
posted by waterlily at 8:35 PM on May 25, 2007

Dovetailing off what waterlily is saying ... There's more to sensory perception than just taste. Mouth feel is an important consideration. Melted ice cream is nearly the same as frozen, but the cold contributes to the mouth feel.
posted by frogan at 8:44 PM on May 25, 2007

Well, does anyone ever ask for a nice bland bowl of anything? Up to a certain point, we like sensory extremes.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:01 PM on May 25, 2007

Hot food really isn't all that hot, anyways.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:13 PM on May 25, 2007

You often hear: "Don't let your dinner [or coffee, etc.] get cold!" "Oh no, this beer [or soda, etc.] is warm!"

On the positive side, people love a "nice cold [beverage]" or a "piping hot [meal]," whereas you don't hear people exulting over a "nice lukewarm [anything]."

I'd distinguish between the prevalence of remarks like this and whether people are driven to hot or cold food. I'd assume that if people like things at room temperature, they don't think it's necessary to add detail. Lots of people ask for bread, cheese, water, salad, cake, cookies, etc., and don't feel the need to specify.

People prefer different temperatures because it affects consistency, taste, safety, and comfort -- and I expect it's hard to isolate one factor.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:14 PM on May 25, 2007

Best answer: When the weather is cold, or even gloomy, I crave something hot and hearty like a stew or a good soup. It warms me up, physically as well as psychologically. As to why can depend on what I ate growing up, and what I believe would make me feel better on certain situations based on my bringing up. Cold food also cools you off as you know.

When it comes to coffee or beverage, the temperature bringings out the flavor even more. A nice hot tea is very soothing where as room temperature or even warm beverage is just a thirst quencher. A nice cold iced coffee awakens your senses...sort of a shock to your body.

To me anyway...
posted by icollectpurses at 9:18 PM on May 25, 2007

Well, does anyone ever ask for a nice bland bowl of anything?

Me. Also, I only drink Coke at room temperature. I think that's because I don't especially like the way it tastes, and the taste is less syrupy at room temperature, to me. So I guess that falls in line with "extremes of temperatures bring out certain flavors." (Dr. Pepper, however, must be cold.)
posted by frobozz at 9:47 PM on May 25, 2007

Well, does anyone ever ask for a nice bland bowl of anything?

Four out of five children. The fifth is pre-verbal.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:57 PM on May 25, 2007

The abstract for the paper that waterlily's link is talking about.

Haven't read the article (no access from home), so can't comment on how good the work is, but it's fair to say that at least some scientists think there is a scientific basis for the phenomena (as opposed to, say, social conditioning).

As for the why, well, that's a bit trickier. It's possible to make evolutionary arguments for almost anything (they're fun intellectual exercises), but they're impossible to prove.
posted by kisch mokusch at 10:13 PM on May 25, 2007

perceived freshness.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:33 PM on May 25, 2007

Well, does anyone ever ask for a nice bland bowl of anything?

I hope this isn't too off topic, but yes, I sometimes crave a bowl of plain rice or some rice cakes or plain white bread. I think this mostly happens when I'm depressed, though.
posted by Citizen Premier at 11:59 PM on May 25, 2007

My mom worked with a lady who, if she went to get food on her lunch break, she'd bring it back to the office and heat it more in the microwave. She said she needed her food to be really hot when she ate it, or else she felt sick. She didn't know why.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:21 AM on May 26, 2007

room temperature foods = snacks
hot/cold food = a real meal

snacks = something that tides you over between meals
meals = a deeper fulfillment on the base item of Maslow's hierarchy of needs
posted by quadog at 12:47 AM on May 26, 2007

It's Biblical ... So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
posted by Alt F4 at 5:48 AM on May 26, 2007

Personally, I can't stand the smell of tomato products at room temperature and below. Cold lasagna or tomato sauce makes me want to hurl. Heat it up for a few minutes, and I love it.

So part of it may be the way that the food reacts to the temperature, rather than just our preferences.
posted by smackfu at 7:41 AM on May 26, 2007

Have to have my coffee hot to start, but I'll drink it room temp. Tastes much better hot. If cold, it requires sugar to be palatable.

I'll eat cooked steak, roast beef and probably other meats hot, lukewarm or cold. Sausage is better hot because I don't like cold fat, although I like salami. If I stop liking cold salami because of this thread, you're in big trouble.

I like cooked veggies at lots of different temps. I think cold, cooked, esp. fried, eggs, are not very yummy, except hard boiled.

I don't love icecold beer. Cold, but not frosty, for most chilled bevs is my preference.

interesting question.
posted by theora55 at 8:11 AM on May 26, 2007

posted by signal at 9:50 AM on May 26, 2007

Lots of us were brought up to adhere to the adage "Keep the hot foods hot and the cold foods cold." Subconsciously, we think that any food left out to get lukewarm is probably crawling with bacteria. Plus, to me, lukewarm means either re-heated leftover or just plain old because it's been sitting out for a while.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:07 AM on May 26, 2007

May be related to the fact that gray is the worst color for food.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:50 AM on May 27, 2007

« Older Life during the rise of Hitler?   |   How slowly does a new head grow? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.