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How Cold Affects the way Food Tastes

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
Hi Everyone,
This is the first time I'm posting to a forum other than the welcome post I made several weeks ago. I write a column on the effects of weather on food preparation. This month's column is about the way cold weather affects our sense of of taste.
I touched on the fact that cold dulls the taste buds, probably via our sense of smell, which is imperative to our ability to taste. I talked about the fact that frozen desserts need more sweetening than you would think--a custard for ice cream might taste fine at room temperature, but after you freeze it, it doesn't taste sweet enough. A cook needs to compensate for this effect.
Does anyone out there in Foodie Land have anything to add that might round out my column?
TIA,
Varda
post #2 of 22
Sometimes cold effects the flavor of foods irrelevent to taste buds.

For instance, cold destorys the taste of tomatoes; or seriously impacts in negatively. Unfortunately, letting the tomato warm up again doesn't bring the flavor back.

You're right, though, that cold has a definate negative affect on how we taste things. I've never understood why most people add so much ice to their drinks, for instance. Whisky has a distinct flavor, and icing it down masks that flavor.

Slightly off topic, but something you might want to explore, is the effects altitude has on taste. Airline food (granted, not the best to begin with) is so heavily flavored as to be all but inedible at ground level, to compensate for our loss of taste discernment at high altitudes.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #3 of 22
Thread Starter 
<Sometimes cold effects the flavor of foods irrelevent to taste buds.>

KYHeirloomer, you're definitely on to something. I never refrigerate tomatoes. Thanks for reminding me about this idea.

As for altitude, I did a column relating to cooking at high altitudes and I never explored the idea that altitude has an effect on taste. This might be good material for a future column. Thanks for taking the time to help me.
Varda
post #4 of 22
the difference between a hot chocolate chip cookie and a cold one is night and day......

we once did a side by side tasting of warm and cold cheeses and chocolate....there was a world of difference.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #5 of 22
Thread Starter 
Good point, shroomgirl.
Thanks!
Varda
post #6 of 22
This effect is well-studied in wine. Maybe you could read up on that and see if any of those factors extrapolate to other consumables?
Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.
-M.F.K. Fisher
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Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.
-M.F.K. Fisher
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post #7 of 22
HI Epavard,

Yes altitude affects the taste buds. I have talked to chefs that cater to first class airlines and they over salt their foods to compensate this affect.

As for why cold can diminish the taste of food is because of volatility. Our tongue can only taste: salty, sweet, acidic, bitter and unmami (savoury). Everything else is <smelled> by our nose. That can happen only when the heat of our mouth can make aromatic chemicals volatile to reach our nasal receptors. Cold temperature foods prevent certain volatile compound to reach the nasal receptors changing the aromatic profile of a food.

When you are sick with <a cold> the nose is blocked and food taste nothing. Soup just taste salty and juice sweet for example but not fruity. Blow your nose after eating a food and you will temporally taste it.

Hope this helps

Luc H.
I eat science everyday, do you?
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I eat science everyday, do you?
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post #8 of 22
I've noticed the difference a lot when serving soups chilled - you need a lot more seasoning with the chilled version. Salads too - make a hot potato salad one day, then try the leftovers chilled next day - you'll be after the salt and pepper on that one. Same with a dish like chilli con carne - it needs to be hot to have the flavour.

And for brandy - look at the shape of a brandy balloon - it needs a lot of space to breathe and stay warm to enjoy the flavour. Why people mix a good brandy/whisky with ice is beyond me. The less expensive versions, well, we might not want to taste it, so smother it with ice and cola :) I think this is what pubs have in mind.
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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post #9 of 22
I was just waiting for Luc to say something here . . the chemistry guy and this is right up his alley. He knows his stuff :D
post #10 of 22
Mix mediocre brandy/whisky with ice, not the good stuff :D
post #11 of 22
Thread Starter 
Wow. I woke up to a bunch of excellent material for my column. I seem to have stumbled on a very knowledgeable forum!

Andy, DC, Roux, what you say echoes some of the material I found: only drink lousy wines and beers at very cold temperatures.

Luc, my article discusses the effect of the trigeminal receptors (responsible for biting, swallowing, and chewing, and in general, our sense of texture) and the olfactory system on taste, but how does altitude change our perception? I had read something about airplane food needing more seasoning, but what's the science behind this? Anyone?
Varda
post #12 of 22
Yep I agree food needs much more seasoning when served cold. I made quite a lot of chicken liver pates last year and when adjusting the seasoning they were still warm, so I had to over compensate (a surprising amount) to allow for the fact that they were bieng served cold.
post #13 of 22
birth of wine coolers.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #14 of 22

Reference is made to:

Mix mediocre brandy/whisky with ice, not the good stuff :D

and

only drink lousy wines and beers at very cold temperatures.

Boys, you're looking at this backwards. If you stay away from potables that are mediocre, lousy, or otherwise second rate you won't need to put ice in them at all.

It's just as easy to drink good stuff as bad!:smoking:
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #15 of 22
This is true :D
post #16 of 22
I'm aware that certain foods need to be chilled to be at their best.
Personally, I prefer beer and white wine at room temp. (I know, I'm a heathen) I also like one ice cube in my Glenfiddich ( even worse you might say, but just try it).
On a slightly different tack, Hot food can taste sooooo much better at room temperature and we do a lot of that. Cooked just before delivery so it's at it's optimum when the clients eat it.
"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
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"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
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post #17 of 22
There appears to be two authorities in this subject: Peter Jones author of Flight Catering discusses the subject but skims the details.
here is a what I found: Flight Catering - Google Book Search

Another is Charles S. Houston MD who has studied how altitude affects taste and can correlate this with cockpit airplane pressurization that is similar to 7000ft of altitude.
example article: The Hindu Business Line : Sky-meals and more ...

I have searched for the explanation I read once but I can't find it. Here it is: rapid altitude changes i.e. like being pressurized in a plane causes tissue swelling. One particular swelling is experienced when our ears temporarily seems to block. This blockage is due to the compression of the Eustachian tube which connects our mouth/throat to our interior ear drum to equilibrate the pressure on either side of the ear drum. The swelling of the Eustachian tube is an indication that the neck and head tissues are swollen. This swelling compresses nerves, like the facial nerve which passes near the jaw joint and ear canal. This nerve delivers part of the taste stimuli detected by the tongue to the brain (like salt, sweet, acid, bitter and savoury). The glossopharyngeal nerve which also passes in the same neck area to also deliver the tongue taste stimuli is probably affected. The compression diminishes the signal significantly reducing the perception of taste. Swollen tissue can also effect saliva glands restricting their flow. Swollen sinuses also compresses the olfactory nerve (from the nose). The swelling is subtle but real.

in this same train of thought, the trigeminal nerves are most probably affected by swelling also.

Severe earaches (I know because I had them when little) can cause enough swelling in the neck, ear, ganglion and jaw joint area to diminish and even temporarily eliminate the perception of taste.

I hope this is useful to you?
Luc H.
I eat science everyday, do you?
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I eat science everyday, do you?
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post #18 of 22
trigeminal nerves . . sheesh this is way over my head

Luc always has great answers, but sometimes hard to decipher :D
post #19 of 22
Epavard was the one who brought up the <trigeminal nerve>... see higher up.
I only included it in my reply.

(thanks for the vote of confidence Andy G)

Luc H.
I eat science everyday, do you?
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I eat science everyday, do you?
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post #20 of 22
Something else possible related: As you gain altitude there is a concommitent loss of appetite. Just ask any backpacker or rock climber.

While the loss of appetitie affects all foods, it's especially pertinent to fatty foods. It's ironic. At a time when you most need oils, you lose your taste for them.

And is this loss of appetite permanent? Do people who live up high find food less appealing than flatlanders? Or is it the rapid change in altitude that causes the loss?

I'm just wondering how this relates to the discussion. Or if it even does?
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #21 of 22
According to Dr. Houston it is temporary and due to mild apoxia which is the lack of oxygen in the blood due to the thinning of the air in high altitudes. This condition can last a couple of weeks. Once your body adapts to the altitude by making more red blood cells the symptoms subside.

the phenomenon is different then lack of taste in airplanes.

Luc H.
I eat science everyday, do you?
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I eat science everyday, do you?
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post #22 of 22
I went to boarding school in the Himalayas, about 7000 feet elevation.

I remember having to adjust there after vacation. Got out of breath more easily. Got my appetite back to normal before too long. Did a lot of backpacking and don't recall not being hungry for dinner then :D
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