Although many people naively assume that the bite of carbonation is due to tactile stimulation of the oral cavity by bubbles, it has become increasingly clear that carbonation bite comes mainly from formation of carbonic acid in the oral mucosa. In Experiment 1, we asked whether bubbles were in fact required to perceive carbonation bite. Subjects rated oral pungency from several concentrations of carbonated water both at normal atmospheric pressure (at which bubbles could form) and at 2.0 atmospheres pressure (at which bubbles did not form). Ratings of carbonation bite under the two pressure conditions were essentially identical, indicating that bubbles are not required for pungency. In Experiment 2, we created controlled streams of air bubbles around the tongue in mildly pungent CO2 solutions to determine how tactile stimulation from bubbles affects carbonation bite. Since innocuous sensations like light touch and cooling often suppress pain, we predicted that bubbles might reduce rated bite. Contrary to prediction, air bubbles flowing around the tongue significantly enhanced rated bite, without inducing perceived bite in blank (un-carbonated) solutions. Accordingly, though bubbles are clearly not required for carbonation bite, they may well modulate perceived bite. More generally, the results show that innocuous tactile stimulation can enhance chemogenic pain. Possible physiological mechanisms are discussed. © 2013 Wise et al.
Wise, P. M., Wolf, M., Thom, S. R., & Bryant, B. (2013). The Influence of Bubbles on the Perception Carbonation Bite. PLoS ONE, 8(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0071488