GENEVA - From one culture to another, the temperature of what people drink during their meals can vary. In many Asian countries for instance, people like to drink a hot beverage while they eat. Europeans for their part tend to favor drinks at room temperature, while North Americans prefer them ice-cold – on the rocks.

Although such differences might seem trifling at first, the French National Institute of Agronomy in Toulouse (ENSAT) teamed up with the University of Arkansas (UARK) to study the phenomenon. Together they looked at a potential correlation between the sensory perception of food and the temperature of beverages people drink with their meals. They recently published a report on their study, and the results are quite surprising.

The research reveals that when you drink fresh or ice-cold water, the sweet flavor of what you eat is greatly diminished. As a consequence, food seems rather bland and not as pleasant as it should be. On the contrary, if you drink hot or room temperature water during meals, the sweetness in the food is more intense. For instance, chocolate is better appreciated and seems tastier when it is served with a room temperature or hot beverage than with an ice-cold drink.

The same experiment was carried out to evaluate the perception of salty and bitter tastes, but drink temperature has no impact on these flavors. No test has been run yet for sourness. Lastly, researchers found out that drinking something warm during a meal enhances the perception of melting textures in food, but not of creamy ones.

These results prove that the temperature of water does have an impact on our taste, and on the pleasure we derive from eating sweet food.

Such data is interesting insofar as it could partly explain why North Americans – who like ice-cold drinks – have such an appetite for more highly sweetened foods. Moreover, it might help find out why Asians, who are used to drinking hot water and tea with their meals, are less sensitive to sweet-tasting foods.

The study is very recent and does not give a comprehensive answer to why people from different cultures are more or less attracted to sweet-tasting food. The subject would need to be further researched, and experiments carried out among different cultures and different age groups. Only then could these results be confirmed, and used as a weapon against our sweet tooth.