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Is Water Really Tasteless?

Team StoryWeavers|August 24, 2022, 11:18 IST|

“What water is to tongues, darkness is to eyes, and silence is to ears. Water as a natural material tends to be tasteless.”

– Aristotle

For thousands of years, we have known that water has no flavour. Pure water has been claimed to be colourless, odourless, and tasteless. However, it is not that simple and plain. Scientists several decades later discovered that a sip of pure distilled water might have a distinct flavour. While some thought it was harsh, others thought it was bland. Around the 1920s, there was evidence that water changes flavour based on what you might have just consumed.

Oh wait, you can taste water?

After you have put something acidic on your tongue, take a sip of water, and it might taste sweet, while if you have something salty, water might feel bitter. Linda Bartoshuk, a psychologist from Yale, has written a series of publications on the so-called aftertastes of water around the 1960s and 1970s. She had also discovered that a person’s saliva could improve the flavour of the water. For instance, your tongue is most likely to produce salty spit throughout the day. When your mouth has already become used to this taste, it will lose all flavour. However, if you get rid of this salty spit with a wash of regular water, your mouth will revert to a bitter or sour taste as soon as you take the next sip. This is what the psychologist claimed to have found.

And this isn’t the only instance where researchers claimed water to have some kind of taste. In 2017, a study found that water may not be a tasteless liquid. Scientists found that our tongue can detect a unique taste in water using its sour-sensing cells. The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

It stated that your taste receptor cells relay information about what you taste to your brain via the taste nerves. In the 2017 study, researchers measured the electrical responses from these taste nerves in mice to various senses of tastes, including that of water. The response was predictable to the basic tastes present in humans — sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. However, they also found that the taste nerves were also stimulated by pure water. To be specific, they found water to activate the “sour” taste receptor cells, which are connected to the part of your brain called the amygdala. This small, almond-shaped part of the brain is known for processing emotions and is involved in working memory.

And this connection, scientists feel, has evolved because of humankind’s survival need to sense that particular tastes, like bitter, may mean their food is terrible or poisonous. This applies to water, too — if water has an unusual taste, it might be contaminated. Hence, your body forces you to consciously spit it out to avoid possible infection or harm.

What’s the verdict? 

So yes, basically, water does have a taste. Where it’s from and where it is sourced makes a massive difference in the flavour you taste when you drink. The other factor is what you interpret from your own taste experience. Taste receptors connected to your brain influence what the water tastes like when drinking.

Have you ever felt that water tastes different? What kind of flavours have you experienced? Tell us in the comments below.

Check out more exciting stuff on The Learning Tree blog:

When and How Was The Wheel Invented?

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About the Author

Writing has always been Shreesha’s passion, be it for imparting knowledge or expressing opinions. In her former role as a journalist, she contributed to enriching society with knowledge. Now, at BYJU’S, she has moved on to something more exciting – creating tailor-made content for students. When she is not writing, you would find her looking for new ways to engage her child.

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