The Real Reason Diet Soda Tastes Funny

Diet soda may feel like a rather appealing option, especially if you're trying to cut back on sugar in your diet and want to take it easy. But the plethora of sugar-free carbonated options have their fair share of fans and critics. While some people vouch for the convenience these beverages offer, others are not so convinced and believe that there are hidden dangers to diet sodas. An astute Redditor had wise words to offer. They wrote, "Diet soda is not as good as water, and may indeed have some negative effects that people should worry about if they're drinking six diet sodas a day." 

They further explained that it would be excessive and potentially harmful considering the amount of caffeine and carbonated liquid you'd be consuming. Diet soda, unfortunately, has been linked to certain health issues like heart disease (via CNN), but research isn't conclusive yet and there are several theories surrounding diet sodas. For example, experts believe that drinking diet soda makes some feel like they're off the hook and can indulge in junk food as a treat, explains The New York Times. Some people also believe that chugging diet drinks may increase your sugar cravings. Again, these are theories that remain unresolved, and researchers are still trying to determine whether diet soda is really healthy or harmful.

That said, it's undeniable that diet soda doesn't quite taste like regular soda. While some might say the taste is a little off and just not what you'd expect if you're usually a fan of regular soda, others are repulsed by the flavor. Why is that?

The reason why the taste isn't the same doesn't have to do with the sweetener

Many folks would tell you that diet soda has a bit of a "metallic" taste that's a little hard to explain. You'd usually assume that the presence of artificial sweeteners has something to do with this, right? Wrong —  according to Live Science, researchers have pointed out the way diet soda feels in your mouth while you're drinking it is the reason you sense a taste that is different from what you're used to.

The researchers, Soo-Yeun Lee and Shelly Schmidt, in the course of their study, discovered that "mouth-feel" has a major impact on how you perceive the taste of diet soda. Basically, factors like fullness and thickness of the beverage have to be taken into account. This makes sense because, as explained by Lee, artificial sweeteners now taste a lot better than they used to, which means that there is much to this mystery than meets the eye. Lee had a simple explanation: "If you bite into an apple and it doesn't crunch, it affects your perception of the way the apple tastes. And if a beverage doesn't feel right in your mouth, that affects your perception of the way the beverage tastes too."

Drinking soda is more of a sensory experience than you might think

As far as Lee and Schmidt are concerned, when you're enjoying food or a beverage, you're impacted by several factors such as taste, smell, vision, and hearing (via The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.) This means it's more of a sensory experience than you may have thought and enjoyment (or lack thereof) can't be attributed to just one thing. There's another point worth noting. Sensory scientists have pointed out that if the factors affecting the sensory experience are tweaked in any way, you can expect a halo effect.

Here's an example: taste testers who tried a lemon-lime drink with added color found it far more satisfying to drink and felt that there was more body in the beverage. "We think the lemon-lime flavor, which is exciting to the mouth, helps mask the mouth-feel difference, and that's why diet lemon-lime drinks were perceived as tasting more like their non-diet counterpart than cola-flavored drinks," Lee said. Makes sense, doesn't it? Perception affects taste in many ways, after all.

However, for some folks, the presence of artificial sweeteners in their drink is an immediate turn-off. A Reddit user wrote, "Can't stand the taste of artificial sweeteners. Aspartame and acesulfame potassium taste metallic and bitter, I can immediately tell when it's in something." 

People remain divided over the taste of regular and diet soda

It's interesting to note that when it comes down to it, the experience of sipping on diet soda is simply not the same for everyone. In fact, a fan of diet soda posted on Reddit that they prefer the drink over its regular counterpart. Many commentators chimed in and said that they feel the same way. Another user pointed out that they find the regular version too sweet. "Coke is too thick and sweet for me too and Coke Zero would be the perfect choice if I wanted it to taste just like Coke; they really did a good job with that," they wrote.

There are also tips floating around for those who wish to make their diet sodas taste better. For example, here's one bizarre theory: adding sugar-free mint to your glass of diet soda and letting it settle for a couple of minutes apparently makes the aftertaste more bearable. Who knew?