A majority of consumers tested cannot detect the flavor of caffeine in soft drinks, Johns Hopkins University researchers have found, and they believe that manufacturers must be adding caffeine to cola for other reasons. Researchers gave a taste test to 25 regular consumers of cola soft drinks. On average, the subjects reported drinking two 12-ounce servings of cola beverages per day, 5 days per week. In a screening session, all were able to detect a flavor difference between colas with sugar and diet colas.
The study participants were then asked to drink decaffeinated colas to which differing amounts of caffeine had been added. At the 0.1 mg/mL level, which is the amount of caffeine that most commercial colas contain, only two subjects (8%) could detect a flavor difference between the caffeinated beverage and a caffeine-free cola. The other subjects could taste a difference only when much higher levels of caffeine were mixed into the colas, at which point they reported a bitter flavor or after-taste. The lead researcher feel that people should be aware of the U.S. soft drink industry's real motives for adding caffeine--to produce psychotropic effects and to make consumers desire more of their product. A regular intake of two to three caffeinated sodas in a day is enough to cause physical dependency. In children, the dose needed to cause withdrawal is probably much lower, and children have much less ability than adults to make an informed choice.
As the Baltimore researchers acknowledge, a quarter of the participants were current smokers, and the association notes that most smokers have desensitized taste buds. The group also emphasizes that according to "every major independent health organization," moderate consumption of caffeine is safe.
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