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I just saw a deal on Sodastream system on bfads, and as someone who was never especially enamored with the idea of carbonated drinks, it dawned on me - I have no idea what the actual point of carbonating drinks is, from culinary viewpoint.

Is it just so the bubbles tickle the mouth? Or does it change the taste or the culinary experience in more ways?

  • Hi DVK. We have a longstanding problem with people wanting nutrition/health information from us, which is off topic. The most useful criterion I know of is to say "if the question is about the physiological effects on your body, it's off topic". I agree that it's a bit murky, because we also talk about taste, but that's what we've got. Anyway, I think there is no harm in keeping your question, but to avoid making a precedent where the discussion of any physiological effects is invited, and also to be less inviting to health answers, I edited your "effects" wording to focus more on taste. – rumtscho Jan 5 '15 at 20:16
  • @rumtscho - Hm. I would expect that it would invite more subjective and anecdotal non-SE-like answers, but it's your house, i'm just visiting :) Anyway, the edit is perfectly fine, thanks for making the question stay ontopic! – DVK Jan 5 '15 at 20:19
  • the question has nothing but anecdotal answers from a culinary point of view. The point is that carbonated water tastes like carbonated water. If you want more details on why people like it, you're going to get subjective taste experiences. – rumtscho Jan 5 '15 at 20:34
  • @rumtscho - if there's a bunch of people uniformly liking something, there must be SOME scientific explanation for it (some other answers on carbonation mentioned studies relating to the effects). Basically the kind of answer I was hoping for would be something that would be similar to content on Alton Brown's show. – DVK Jan 5 '15 at 20:44
  • as somebody studying the causes of "liking", I can assure you that the scientific explanation behind somebody liking a thing is "there are a bunch of factors, but the one overshadowing all of the rest is having been exposed to it very frequently" – rumtscho Jan 5 '15 at 20:46
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Carbonation produces the textural effects associated with effervescence, first of all, and a lot of people find that texture enjoyable. Texture is a huge part of the culinary experience and affects how flavorful compounds contact your tongue, thus affecting its perceived flavor.

Carbonation also raises the acidity of a beverage slightly, due to the presence of dissolved carbonic acid in the solution. As @Joe mentions in comments, this can promote the release of gasses with additional dissolved flavorful compounds. All of this can have a suppressing or enhancing effect on other flavors (a topic which is absurdly complicated and still being explored by food scientists much smarter than I).

Basically, the point of carbonating is similar to the point of pureeing something, or the point of dehydrating it. It's a fun and easy way to change how you experience the food--or beverage in this case.

  • The main point of pureeing something is to satisfy my laziness and allowing me not to chew :) – DVK Jan 5 '15 at 23:21
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I find sparkling water more refreshing than still water. I also find it to be a better palate cleanser. There are no side effects. Carbonation simply changes the experience, for me, making it more pleasant. There is also research that suggests carbonation changes the way the mouth perceives sweetness. Further, an article was published last year, in the journal Food and Function, with the title "Sensory attributes of soft drinks and their influence on consumers' preferences". So the point of carbonation is typically because consumers enjoy carbonated beverages. Are you a beer drinker? Do you prefer flat beer or carbonated? Wine drinker? Wouldn't you say sparkling wines and still wines are experienced differently?

  • There's a difference between water and the drinks you mentioned -- they're flavored. The bubbles in beer and wine help to bring chemicals out of the liquid so they can reach your nose (which we then consider to be taste, but is actually smell). I don't think you have the same degree of that with carbonated water. – Joe Jan 5 '15 at 21:24
  • @joe, i would beg to differ. There are lots of components to water. Try comparing a drink of distilled water to any number of bottled waters...or even tap water. Then carbonate them. Carbonation not only has a physical effect (textural, as someone wrote below), but also impacts the perception of flavor. – moscafj Jan 6 '15 at 12:24
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See the top answer here. I think it covers this pretty well: "CO2 tastes good! Carbonated water is actually a weak carbonic acid solution, this is what you taste"

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