Here's What Makes Food Taste Sweet

It's around this time of year, when stores begin stocking those plastic pumpkin buckets, that we begin to think about the sweeter things in life. Sure, there are plenty of reasons why your favorite treats taste so excellent, but in particular, the latest video from the American Chemical Society's Reactions channel lets us in on the secrets of sweet.
Advertisement
As the video explains, there's an evolutionary reason behind our love of these sugary morsels. Because foods containing that much sucrose are both rare in nature and contain a lot of usable energy, it makes sense that they would be rewarding — these are foods we would want to remember and come back for. But, to actually taste sweet, the video says, a food needs to have three chemical attributes that form a triangular shape. Like a hand in a glove, that molecular shape perfectly activates the taste receptors that send a "sweet" signal to the brain.
But, the molecular structure story is a little different when it comes to artificial sweeteners. Although they still have that triangular shape (which does make them taste "sweet"), they don't fit quite as nicely. For instance, aspartame (found in most diet sodas) is "chemically more similar to meat than sugar," says the video's host, Darcy Gentleman, PhD.
So, now that we know why that stuff tastes so great, we can get out there and make the most of Halloween (candy) season.
Advertisement