Champagne Gets Its Fizz From Tiny Acid Burns

December 16, 1998

The delicious tingle as you sip a celebratory glass of champagne this Christmas will have nothing to do with bursting bubbles. By asking volunteers to dip their tongues in fizzy water, researchers in California have found that the sensation is caused by carbonic acid, a chemical irritant.

Earl Carstens and his colleagues at the University of California, Davis, made their discovery with the help of acetazolamide, a drug taken to combat altitude sickness. One of the drug's side effects is that it dulls the tingle from carbonated drinks. "It's called the champagne blues," Carstens says.

Carstens trained his volunteers to rate the tingling sensation after they stuck their tongues into carbonated water for up to 15 seconds. The scale they used ranged from zero for no sensation, to 10 for the irritation caused by hot peppers. Later, Carstens coated half the tongue of each volunteer with acetazolamide before asking them to dip their tongues into the test drinks once more, and report the tingle on each side of the tongue. The scores were significantly lower on the side coated with the drug.

Acetazolamide blocks carbonic anhydrase, an enzyme which converts carbon dioxide into carbonic acid. Carstens believes the sensation of "fizziness" depends on this reaction. "We think the carbonic anhydrase takes carbon dioxide gas, which dissolves in saliva then percolates through fatty tissue in the tongue, and converts it into carbonic acid."

Supporting evidence comes from a separate study in which volunteers drank carbonated drinks in a hyperbaric chamber, where the high pressure stopped bubbles forming in the drinks. "They still got the tingling sensation," says Carstens.

Carstens also points out that drinks containing other gases seem less fizzy. The bubbles in Guinness, for example, are composed mostly of nitrogen (for more on this see "Pure genius", p 56). This beer seems much smoother on the tongue than carbonated drinks.
Author: Andy Coghlan
UK CONTACT - Claire Bowles, New Scientist Press Office, London:
Tel: 44-171-331-2751 or email
US CONTACT - Barbara Thurlow, New Scientist Washington office:
Tel: 202-452-1178 or email


New Scientist

Related Bubbles Articles from Brightsurf:

Work bubbles can help businesses reopen while limiting risk of COVID-19 outbreaks
Creating ''work bubbles'' during the COVID-19 pandemic can help reduce the risk of company-wide outbreaks while helping essential businesses continue to function, as the example of Bombardier Aviation demonstrates in an analysis published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

Bouncing bubbles shake up emulsion studies
Collisions of tiny air bubbles with water surfaces can reveal fundamental characteristics of foamy mixtures.

Tiny bubbles make a quantum leap
Researchers at Columbia Engineering and Montana State University have found that placing sufficient strain in a 2D material creates localized states that can yield single-photon emitters.

Soap bubbles pollinated a pear orchard without damaging delicate flowers
Soap bubbles facilitated the pollination of a pear orchard by delivering pollen grains to targeted flowers, demonstrating that this whimsical technique can successfully pollinate fruit-bearing plants.

First optical measurements of Milky Way's Fermi Bubbles probe their origin
Using the Wisconsin H-Alpha Mapper telescope, astronomers have for the first time measured the Fermi Bubbles in the visible light spectrum.

Double bubbles pierce with less trouble
Two microscopic bubbles penetrate soft materials better than one, concludes a new study by engineers at UC Riverside.

Novel tin 'bubbles' spur advances in the development of integrated chips
The use of extreme ultraviolet light sources in making advanced integrated chips has been considered, but their development has been hindered owing to a paucity of efficient laser targets.

Bubbles go with the flow
Scientists at The University of Tokyo developed a new computer simulation model that includes microbubble nucleation to explain the flow slippage of fluids inside pipes.

Physics of giant bubbles bursts secret of fluid mechanics
A study inspired by street performers making gigantic soap bubbles led to a discovery in fluid mechanics: Mixing different molecular sizes of polymers within a solution increases the ability of a thin film to stretch without breaking.

Cosmic bubbles reveal the first stars
Astronomers using the Mayall telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, a program of NSF's National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, have identified several overlapping bubbles of hydrogen gas ionized by the stars in early galaxies, a mere 680 million years after the Big Bang.

Read More: Bubbles News and Bubbles Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to