I read recently that humans have an innate preference for sweet-tasting foods. That seems feasible since carbohydrates are necessary for cells to undergo cellular respiration, but why then is water not similarly good-tasting? The thirst mechanism is a very long, multi-step process that ensures that humans intake a sufficient amount of water, and it can be really satisfying to drink water when you're really thirsty, but why is it flavorless if it's so vital to life?

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    $\begingroup$ because water is ubiquitous. Every living object is made up of water. So it would not make sense to have a sensory perception for water. Imagine you always feeling the taste of your own saliva. $\endgroup$
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ Is it flavorless or is it just something we consume so often that we just learn it to be the neutral flavor? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ Try tasting distilled water : ) It stings. $\endgroup$
    – Agent_L
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ Water is a compound and like many other compounds it has its own properties. Some compounds have smell while others do not, some have characteristic taste while others don't and the same happen with colour. $\endgroup$
    – Tyto alba
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ Because there are no taste buds or olfactory nerves that associate a taste with water (distilled). With that said, regular non-distilled water will have slight taste in it due to minerals, treatment chemicals (example: weak chlorination), and microbes. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 15, 2017 at 19:56

1 Answer 1


Consumer water is not flavorless. Sources of flavor include (1) the chemical and microbial content, which is most influenced by geology and ecology; (2) chemicals added or removed during water treatment, and (3) inputs and reactions that occur during distribution and storage (Dietrich, 2006).

Two examples of ecology-related flavors are geosmin and 2-methylisoborneol, which are respectively responsible for earthy and musty odors, produced by cyanobacteria and actinomycetes (Izaguirre et al, 1982). Humans detect these earthy and musty odors at concentrations of only a few ng/l. The ability to smell geosmin and 2-methylisoborneol is affected by other factors, such as the presence of chlorine, which masks odors (Dietrich, 2006).

The capability of organisms to detect microorganisms like cyanobacteria is not trivial, as cyanobacteria produce toxic microcystins with hepatotoxic and neurotoxic properties that can cause illness and even death (Blaha et al, 2009).

In my opinion, from an evolutionary perspective, it would be more important for survival to taste pollutants in the water than to mask these components by generating a taste to water that could potentially make the detection of toxins less effective.

- Blaha et al., Interdiscip Toxicol (2009); 2(2): 36–41
- Dietrich, J Water and Health (2006); 4(Suppl 1): 11-6
- Izaguirre et al., Appl Environ Microbiol (1982); 43(3): 708–14

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    $\begingroup$ To add to the water is not flavorless point - generally speaking water you drink in cities and water you drink in rural areas tastes notably different. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 16:36
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    $\begingroup$ Food & drink that are very cold are characteristically less flavorful than anything at room temperature or hot, it's definitely something to consider. You can also control the solutes in the water to obtain a desired taste. Reverse osmosis plants remove all solutes in water, and they'll add calcium, magnesium, etc. after the process. In my hometown, the water from the fountain in the reverse osmosis plant lobby was the best-tasting I've personally had, as it hadn't traveled through the city water lines, yet (this adds some flavor). $\endgroup$
    – CKM
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidGrinberg you do not taste the water when you say water from two sources taste different. You are actually tasting the dissolved solutes. $\endgroup$
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 5:10
  • $\begingroup$ Then why are all other foods (fruit, meat, vegetables) full of flavor? Wouldn't it better than to have, say, apples flavorless so that we could taste any rotting? Or I could ask the reverse question - wouldn't it better for the human body to assign a good taste to water so as to make it a nutritional "award", like most other natural good foods? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ Because thirst is quenched by a liquid and in nature there are almost no liquids that are not mostly water, and none of them taste even mildly pleasant. Water doesn't need to taste good becasue water is all you have. But there are lots and lots of solids out there so certain ones have to taste good. You also can detect water more easily by its ability to wet then trying to design a chemical sensor that works to detect water in water laden mucus. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 16:26

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