How mystery flavors confuse our taste buds

Hints of fruity, chewy, tangy, and who knows what else. (Travis Rathbone/)

Mystery flavors have multiplied on store shelves of late. Companies tempt consumers into guessing obscure tastes in special editions of everything from chips to cookies. But at least one cryptic bite’s profile remains under wraps: Laffy Taffy debuted its White Mystery Airhead in 1993, and the monochrome concoction continues to baffle.

The candymaker receives heaps of fan theories every day—from tart lemon to smooth vanilla—but no one has gotten it right. Today, only a few dozen people know the secret identity; the rest of us have to settle for simpler certitudes. The tang of citric acid makes White Mystery undeniably fruity, and a mixture of sugar and corn syrup adds ample sweetness. The absence of color, however, is the curveball: It deprives the brain of the visual cues that can help taste buds determine the source and the intensity of a given zing.

This story appears in the Fall 2020, Mysteries issue of Popular Science.

Source

Science

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