Why does reheated food taste better?

Why does takeaway food seem to taste better the next day?

The morning after a night out can see many people waking up, bleary eyed and consuming the remains of whatever they were feasting on hours previously. For some, that might mean a kebab and for others, it might mean a salmon kedgeree.

In this article, we will investigate and explain why certain foods taste better when re-heated rather than eaten cold.

Even before it enters the mouth, your food is already sending countless stimuli to your body. Amongst these are aroma compounds present in the food, which, once a high enough temperature is reached, become volatile and stimulate the olfactory neurons in the nose and mouth. If the food is cold, however, this process does not take place until inside the mouth, thereby decreasing the potential stimulation of the orthonasal neurons in the nose and it left to your mouth to heat the food up to a sufficient temperature.

The human body maintains a core temperature of around 37°C. While this gives us a mouth temperature high enough to cause the aroma molecules to become volatile and stimulate the olfactory neurons in the back of the mouth, it doesn't really do enough to aid the heating up of fats. Fat molecules are also important contributors to the perception of flavour.

Fats are of vital importance in terms of taste due to the fact that they house the tastant molecules, which interact with the taste buds. At a higher temperature, these tastant-containing fats are more fluid and can therefore more easily coat the tongue (Your taste buds), causing the perception of taste/flavour through tastant interaction with particular receptors. The short period of time that food is in the mouth before being swallowed is not enough to cause the fats present in many foods to be heated into this fluid state – reducing the taste perception.

One might ask, “Why don’t you keep it in there for longer before swallowing?” Innuendo aside, the body doesn’t work that way.

Yes, given long enough, the fats would eventually succumb to increasing heat in the mouth and become more fluid but you wouldn’t be able to taste it due to something known as sensory adaptation. When the food is first put in the mouth, the receptors on the tongue send strong impulses to the brain, which make those initial bites incredibly overt. The following bites will not generate such an intense response from the receptors and as such, the perception will diminish over the course of time.

This is certainly something worth a passing thought when you eye up that cold pizza from the night before.

This article was researched by our regular contributing food geek (And purveyor of a fine ‘fro) Alex, and was co-written with Kitchen Geekery.

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