Ask Fuzzy: Water, it's a matter of taste

Ask Fuzzy: Water, it's a matter of taste

Does water have flavour?

Most poeple prefer the taste of the water they grew up drinking.

Most poeple prefer the taste of the water they grew up drinking.Credit:Daniel Pockett

That’s an interesting question, because we normally associate water with having no taste at all.

First we clarify what we mean by ‘‘water’’, because water from the Ganges would be very different to water from the Molonglo, or water from a tap.

It turns out that a simple swig of water is a lot more than you might imagine because it contains a huge variety of salts and suspended particles such as silt and organic matter. There are also plenty of living things swimming around in it, as famously noted by Antony van Leeuwenhoek, who wrote in 1683 that ‘‘the animalcules were in such enormous numbers, that all the water ... seemed to be alive’’. One can imagine his reaction when he realised this is what he’d been drinking all those years.


This means a glass of water is not just a glass of water, and each of these components modifies the flavour to some extent.

People drinking water in Winton have to put up with the strong sulphurous odour from their artesian bores. This affects the flavour, but even within the town there are variations depending on which bore the water comes from.

The water from processing plants has small amounts of added chlorine, which imparts a slight acidic taste.
According to US research, the water we prefer to drink is affected by personal experience. People tend to like the taste of the water they grew up with.

You’d think the best-tasting water would be perfectly pure Dihydrogen Monoxide, but no, it tastes terrible. Those who’ve sampled ultra-pure water used in labs say it’s flat, lifeless and somewhat acidic.

On top of that, it’s not even very good for you. It’s so pure that it draws minerals out of your body which you need for good health.

The question of whether water has flavour was studied at the University of California where scientists identified a gene that appears to be responsible for the ability of fruit flies to taste water. Fruit flies with that gene removed drank less of it.

In Australia we’re accustomed to having fresh, clean drinking water available from taps all day every day. Yet there are many millions around the world for whom this is impossible. We show our appreciation by buying it in plastic bottles instead.

Response: Rod Taylor, Fuzzy Logic.

The Fuzzy Logic Science Show is on at 11am on Sundays on 2XX 98.3FM.
Questions to Twitter: @FuzzyLogicSci

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