Chemical Reaction that gives Beer its Edge

 In Blog

A recent study has proven that the refreshing bite we get from an ice cold beer or soda actually comes from a chemical reaction that goes on inside the mouth. During the reaction the carbon dioxide in the beer/soda bubbles into carbonic acid. So what we actually love some much is acid not bubbles.

100981168-78766369.240x160“Carbonation bite is an acidic chemical sensation rather than a purely physical, tactile one,” Bruce Bryant, a sensory biologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, said in a news release Wednesday. Bryant is one of the authors of a study on the biology behind the “bite,” published in the open-access PLOS ONE.

Bryant and his colleagues found that the bubbles do enhance the overall sensation of carbonation—but by stimulating the sense of touch rather than taste.


During the experiment researchers took 12 healthy adults and sat them down in a hyperbaric chamber (a sealed room where the atmospheric pressure can be raised to twice as normal). At the pressure in the chamber the Carbon Dioxide that is dissolved in a liquid cannot form bubbles. The researchers then asked the study’s participants to rate the intensity of the “bite” they experienced from different concentrations of plain carbonated water. They tried normal pressure and high pressure and yet the ratings from the participants were the same, whether or not bubbles were produced.

This experiment proves that the effect is the same whether or not there were actual bubbles in the beverage as long as carbon dioxide is turned into carbonic acid, leading researchers to the question “Are bubbles unnecessary?” The article from goes on to explain:

To answer that question, the researchers set up another experiment: This time, the researchers added some extra air bubbles to the carbonated water. They expected that there’d be no difference, but were surprised to find that the air bubbles actually enhanced the bite of the carbon dioxide bubbles. Presumably, the “mouthfeel” of the bubbles added an extra dimension to the experience of fizz.

“We thought the touch of the bubbles would suppress the painful aspects of carbonation, much as itching a mosquito bite or rubbing a sore muscle does,” Bryant said.


The researcher’s findings are supported by observations made by mountain climbers who found that when they consumed beer at the top of the mountain it tasted flat. This was found to be because of a drug they took to counter altitude sickness which blocks the conversion of carbon dioxide to carbonic acid – therefore blocking the “bite” that we have come to expect (and love) from beer.

So now that we know where the appeal of a refreshing beer actually comes from and we know that beer consumed in moderation actually has health benefits we can enjoy it that much more the next time we crack open a cold one…just as long as we aren’t climbing a mountain and are doing in safely, responsibly and in moderation.


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