Have you ever wondered why coffee and donuts (or cake or pie…) go well together? Sure you might theorize that a sweet baked treat might greatly complement coffee’s bitter acidity and earthy aroma, but a new study suggests that it is a different mechanism entirely.
According to the new study, published in the journal Food Science, caffeine has not only the power to give your brain—and heart—a little jolt in the morning, but also the power to change the way you sense taste. Basically, caffeine can hinder your sense for sweetness. Scientists explain that caffeine is a strong adenosine antagonist. Adenosine, of cousre, promotes relaxation and sleepiness, which is why caffeine makes you feel so awake. When you suppress these receptors, it might perk you up, but it will also reduce your taste for sweetness.
Cornell University assistant professor Robin Dando puts it this way: “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.”
In the study, one group of subjects was given decaffeinated coffee that had 200 milligram of caffeine added in a lab. This actually makes for a pretty strong cup of coffee that would be consistent with the type of coffee the average person might drink on an average morning. The second group in the study, of course, was just given regular, decaf coffee.
Both groups added sugar.
The study found that the group who drank the coffee with the added caffeine rated the coffee/sugar as less sweet than the group with plain decaf coffee. In a secondary part of the study, In a secondary part of the study, participants also shared how alert they felt and estimated how much caffeine they think was in their cup of coffee. The researches found the participants reported the same jump in this alertness regardless of the actual caffeine levels. Of course, Dando theorized, “We think there might be a placebo or a conditioning effect to the simple action of drinking coffee.”
Dando argues, “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 action of thinking that you have done the things that make you feel more awake, makes you feel more awake,” he said.