Susan McFie reports

Many years ago I recall someone telling me that her children didn’t like water. It seemed strange to me at the time. It was rather like someone saying they didn’t like breathing air. Water was fundamental to survival, it wasn’t like tea or coffee or lemonade. However a lot has happened to water since humans began to industrialise the planet. Animals will often refuse to drink tap water, preferring rainwater, particularly from nice muddy puddles in the woods. The mud puddles often contain mineral rich clay which helps to detoxify the animals’ guts and ease their digestion. Dogs and cats actually have far fewer taste buds than humans’ however they may well have the advantage over us when it comes to identifying good water. Both dogs and cats along with other carnivores are endowed with specialised water-tasting buds, which humans apparently do not have. This seems like a distinct disadvantage in terms of survival skills. Perhaps humans have some other, as yet undiscovered way of testing the water.

In our 100th issue we looked at contamination of drinking water supplies. The contaminants include chemicals added for disinfection purposes as well as industrial and agricultural toxins and even pharmaceuticals. Perhaps it wasn’t so surprising that children didn’t like the taste of the stuff coming out of the kitchen tap. The cost of upgrading our water plants to deal more effectively with all these substances will amount to billions of pounds, but this does not seem to be top of the government’s agenda. No doubt the big clean up will eventually come, perhaps hastened by investigative documentaries. In the meantime it falls to individual households to improve their water supply.

Some people are mainly concerned with the taste of their drinking water whilst others prioritise the quality. I was curious to know if humans could match dogs and cats in terms of distinguishing between different water samples. Did children have superior tasting ability? And did better taste equate to healthier water? I also wondered if disliking water could be the result of highly developed taste buds. In order to get some idea we set up an informal tasting experiment. A group of adults and children were invited to taste unidentified water samples from various sources. The samples were: filtered and unfiltered Hastings tap water, two different filter systems… a Brita jug filter and a plumbed in, dual filter system. The volunteers were also offered plain tap water, a bottled supermarket water and water from a local spring. The participants included two children, a professional wine expert and an adult who professed to hate the taste of water.

The results were fascinating. Six out of 12 participants were able to identify both the tap and local spring water. They included our wine expert, the water-hating adult and both children. Eight out of 12 found the tap water to have a very strong, unpleasant taste described variously as ‘bitter’, ‘chemical’ or ‘soapy’. Seven out of 12 chose the local spring water as having the best taste, describing it as ‘lovely’ or ‘yummy’ and ‘like proper water.’ The responses to the filtered waters varied quite considerably but overall the double filter system seems to have won out over the jug filter with comments like ‘more subtle’ ‘milder’ and ‘less after-taste.’ The supermarket mineral water was generally preferred to the tap water but several participants commented on ‘strong’ ‘weird’ or ‘soapy’ ‘after taste.’ No one expressed a preference for the tap water. The children, unlike the adults were very confident about what they could taste. One child found the tap water ‘disgusting’ and the local spring water ‘yummy’ whilst filtered water was ‘edited.’

And of course she’s right, filtering water is a kind of editing. We take out stuff that is harmful and in the process we remove beneficial minerals. This was actually a very challenging test. What is remarkable is just how much people were able to detect. The samples looked identical but each had been subjected to countless processes.

Gathered from rivers and reservoirs, passing underground through cleansing layers of soil and rock, but often contaminated by pesticide, landfill and domestic cleaning products. Tap water is subjected to numerous processes, many involving chemicals that are harmful to health. Bottled water once taken from a source may remain for a year or two before somebody drinks it, absorbing plastic chemicals.

The test was revealing but threw up many more questions. Are we conditioned by what we habitually eat and drink? How do the drugs we take affect our ability to taste? What about alcohol and cigarettes? Do health problems make us more or less ‘taste perceptive’? And what about the effects of dental material including amalgams? Finally we had a canine participant and her views were clear. She was happy to drink any of the offerings apart from tap water. However
it was the local spring water that she polished off first.

  We used a standard Brita filter jug. Brita also has a handy bottle including filter at £12.95 for water on the go.

  The Plumbed-in filter was a Pozzani twin under sink unit.
It filters out nitrate, nitrite, chlorine, heavy metals, oestrogens etc.
Cost under £100 including tap.

  Filters unfortunately remove beneficial minerals.
Simplest way to replace them is a pinch of unrefined salt.
Try mineral rich Celtic sea salt or Sel de Guerande.

•Alternatively has an Alkaline Mineral Stick that you simply drop into water.

  Human infants have around 30,000 taste buds. By adulthood we are down to about 9,000. Dogs have some 1700 taste buds; cats about 470. Plus animals have water specific taste buds. So it seems there’s no level playing field in our ‘taste for survival.’


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