The taste buds on the tongue are, of course, important for the flavor of food. See if different parts of the tongue are most sensitive to different characteristics of food (i.e., salty, bitter, sour, sweet). Get examples of each of these tastes (for example, salty water, sugary water, vinegar or lemon for sour and onion juice for bitter). Give each person a set of solutions and some toothpicks. Dip the toothpicks into the solutions and lightly touch the tongue. Repeat the tests on different portions of the tongue. It may help to drink a bit of water in between tests. Also be careful in testing the back part of the tongue...some people may gag! Are parts of the tongue more sensitive to specific flavors or are all parts of the tongue equally sensitive to the flavors? If so, indicate on a drawing of the tongue the areas that are most sensitive to the different tastes. Compare tongue drawings with tongue drawings from other people.
The Nose Knows
The nose is responsible for part of the flavor of food. To demonstrate this, blindfold a person and have that person hold their nose. Give them something to taste such as an pear or apple slice. Can they tell the difference between the pear and the apple? Try to distinguish the pear slice from the apple slice. Other good comparison items are baby foods: they come in a variety of fruit and vegetable flavors. A test food most kids like is the jelly bean. Buy several flavors of jelly beans and have everyone try to guess the flavor (with and without the use of their nose). The advantage of using the baby foods and jelly beans is that they are have the same texture. Therefore, the blindfolded person will not be able to use touch information to distinguish the different items.
Taste Match Game
Can you put different foods into sweet, bitter, sour or salty groups? Gather up 3-4 different foods that fit into those 4 categories of taste. If you can't find any "real" food, you can cut out pictures from magazines, but you won't get a chance to taste it. Taste one of the items and record whether it tastes sweet, bitter, sour or salty. After you have tried all the food, compare your results with the rest of the class. Does everyone agree?
No Saliva, No Taste?
In order for food to have taste, chemicals from the food must first dissolve in saliva. Once dissolved, the chemicals can be detected by receptors on taste buds. Therefore, if there is no saliva, you should not be able to taste anything. To test this theory, dry your tongue with a clean paper towel. Once your tongue is dry, try tasting a few samples of salt, sugar or other dry foods. Rinse your mouth and dry your tongue after each test.
For grades 3-12
Does what you see influence what you taste? Find out here. Get four different flavored sodas (fruity ones such as lemon, grape, cherry, etc.). These sodas should also be different colors. Also get one unflavored, clear soda (such as, club soda or seltzer water). Add a few drops of food coloring to the unflavored, clear soda (orange works well). This will make it LOOK like orange soda, but of course, it will NOT have any taste. Pour the five drinks into different cups for taste testers. Ask people to tell you what each drink tastes like.
How many people said your unflavored drink was "Orange"?
Food companies add color to food to influence what it tastes like. People like to see foods in colors that they expect.
In this experiment, use jelly beans instead of soda. For each subject you test, you will need pairs of jelly beans. For example, get 2 cherry jelly beans, 2 lime jelly beans, 2 lemon jelly beans and 2 orange jelly beans. Each jelly bean flavor has its own unique color: red for cherry, green for lime, yellow for lemon and orange for orange. Divide the jelly beans into two groups: each group should have one of each flavor.
Label small containers or napkins with the numbers 1 through 4. Place the jelly beans from the first group into a container or on a napkin - one jelly bean into each container or on each napkin. Wrap the jelly beans in the second group in foil or place them in a cup so that your subjects cannot see them. Label these cups with the numbers 1 through 4. Make sure that the flavors of the second group have different numbers than the flavors in the first group.
Now you are ready to start the experiment. If you want, you can tell your subject the names of the flavors that they will be tested. In other words, you can say, "The jelly beans you taste will be either cherry, orange, lime or lemon." Tell your subject to look at the jelly bean in container #1 of the first group and then taste the jelly bean. After they have tasted the jelly bean, tell your subject to write down its flavor. Do the same thing with jelly beans #2-#4.
The next part of the experiment is a bit more difficult. You must keep the color of the jelly beans in group 2 hidden from your subjects. You can blindfold your subjects or have them close their eyes while they taste the jelly beans. Keep track of the flavors that your subjects say each jelly bean tastes like. You can even tell your subjects that the flavors they will taste will be the same as before.
What are the results? Did you subjects make any mistakes when they could not see the color of the jelly bean? If they did, what was the most common mistake? What would happen if you used an unusual flavor? What would happen if you found a jelly bean with an abnormal color...for example a red-colored lemon-flavor jelly bean?
Summary of published experiments on the influence of sight on the taste of drinks and food.
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Neuroscience for Kids