It swallows, breathes, salivates and knocks back fizzy drinks like there is no tomorrow. It is the latest weapon in food chemistry: the artificial throat.
Developing the flavour of a new sports or low-carbohydrate drink is a lengthy task, involving many tests by panels of human tasters. The artificial throat was developed to spare drinks makers the expense and hassle involved in organising and analysing hundreds of tests by helping to predict how a drink will taste. It works by mimicking the process of human tasting.
Taste is mostly smell. The tongue’s taste receptors identify only the basic flavours: sweet, sour, salt, bitter and umami. The finer distinctions are made high in the nasal passages where flavours such as orange, cherry and chocolate are sensed.
Most of the information used to sense these more subtle flavours comes from the very first puff of air we exhale after swallowing. That breath picks up molecules from the drink or food and carries them up the nasal passages. This information is especially important with drinks, because they spend so little time in the mouth before heading down the hatch.