Intersection of Flavor, Taste and Mouthfeel with the Dreaded Coconut LaCroix: Mighty Mighty Lactones

I absolutely adore coconut-flavored LaCroix. Aside from being able to drink a calorie-free beverage that won’t make be unmotivated or tipsy in the afternoon, I love that it recalls me of a summery day in the shade of palm trees and gulls, crystal blue water rocking a floating dock nearby.

I hadn’t realized a key reason why I enjoy the coconut LaCroix until recently, when I moved to Chicago and was exposed to dozens of new opinions about seltzer water, which is apparently pretty popular in my set. A major reason cited for why people I’ve met don’t enjoy seltzer water is lack of mouthfeel and lack of an expected sweetness. All our soda(/pop) beverages have conditioned us to expect a certain fullness of mouthfeel and an accompanying sweetness, and drinkers can be jarred when the seltzer doesn’t deliver that sweetness. I bet that this effect could well be enhanced by the derceased sweet perception in carbonated beverages from carbonation’s effect on the processing of the sweet stimulus.

Coconut LaCroix is special, and I’d like to suggest, intentionally or unintentionally designed to counter many of the flaws inherent in unsweetened seltzer. Many of the major flavor compounds that cue “coconut” are the gamma-lactones. These compounds are also important constituents of peach, apricot, and creamy flavor. In coffee, a separate class of lactones account for the balanced, soft bitterness that comes from careful roasting, proper brewing, and prompt serving. Of interest in beer making are lactones’ contribution to so-called coumarinic flavors in beer left in-contact with medium- or light-toast that has only been mildly seasoned: those striking coconut flavors!

Gamma-lactones have varied aromas, depending on the length of their side-chains, but most have sweet-aromatic and creamy associations, like of coconut-cream and tropical fruits (I have a pet theory that this flavor resonance accounts for the deliciousness of coconut-cream pie and peaches and cream). They also impart a creamy mouthfeel to beverages.

These attributes, I think, are important on countering some of the unfavorable hedonic attributes of the unsweetened coconut-flavored seltzer, helping give the impression of “sweet” with sweet-aromatics and lending a mild creaminess to the beverage.

So hold your nose and roll the beverage around in your mouth next time you pop open one of these Coconut LaCroix (if you don’t just reflexively hate it, as most people seem to)! Also look for the sweet-aromatic aspect of the woody-coconut flavor. I get a pretty clear “creamy” mouthfeel despite the thinness of the beverage. Lemme know you you think!


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