Here you will learn how the senses work together and how great the influence of the other senses is when it comes to taste. Of course, you can also test on your own how tasting works without the associated senses.
Let's go - have fun!
Would you like to learn more about the structure of your tongue and how tasting works exactly? Then take a look at the first part of our tasting series: How does tasting work?
Why doesn't food taste as good when you are sick? How do our senses work together to give us the best possible taste experience? Answers to these questions and more fun facts about tasting can be found below in the additional information.
There you will also find links to further information material.
Suitable for age group: 9 years and above
Especially interesting for: Children and adolescents, gourmets, experimenters, budding scientists and medical doctors
Preparation time: about 10-30 min per experiment
You've probably heard the expression "a dish pleasing to the eye". This means that food that looks great is more appealing to us than food that looks unappetising. The appearance of the food influences our expectations of it. You can test this with the following experiment!
A proband/ test subject, preferably several persons
4-5 small bowls
Food colouring (esp. red, pink, yellow)
Optional: vanilla flavouring or a vanilla bean
With this experiment you can trick your friends' or siblings' sense of taste. Try to recreate the colour of different fruit yoghurts with food colouring. Then ask your test person about the different flavours or which yoghurt tasted best and see if they notice you tricked them!
For this step it is very important that your subject is not in the room! They should not yet see what the secret behind the experiment is.
Take all the materials and place them on a table. Then distribute the plain yoghurt evenly into your bowls and add a small dab of one of the food colours to each bowl. You want to recreate different fruit yoghurts with the colour, so be careful with the amount of food colouring at the beginning.
Only use colours that match the fruit yoghurt varieties. A blue or green fruit yoghurt is a bit unusual and you don't want the sham to be noticed.
If you like, you can also add vanilla flavouring instead of food colouring to one of the bowls. However, it is important that you use unsweetened flavouring, vanilla extract or a real vanilla bean that has been scraped out. Unfortunately, vanilla sugar does not work.
Now you can get the test subjects to join the experiment. Let your participants taste the different coloured yoghurts and ask them for their opinion. What kind of fruit yoghurt is it? Which yoghurt tastes particularly sweet, particularly fruity or particularly tasty?
If you interview several people, you can create a small table and enter the different assumptions of the test participants. This way you can see differences and similarities and compare the results. Who guesses best?
In this experiment, your test persons must have noticed differences even though there were none, right? That's because our brain suspects differences in taste from the varying colours alone. The eyes already give the brain information about the food before eating and thus create an expectation. So the eyes trick the sense of taste or the brain.
If you did the experiment with vanilla flavouring, you may have noticed that your test subjects perceived the yoghurt as sweeter. This is due to the cultural imprinting that we already receive as children. In this country, we eat vanilla almost exclusively in sweet foods, such as a cake, and have thus learned that vanilla belongs to sweet foods. The taste of vanilla alone therefore already seems sweet to us. In other cultures, where vanilla is also used in savoury dishes, this is not the case because there is no such intense association here.
You have already learned that the eyes have an influence on the sense of taste. But does this also apply to other senses? With this experiment, find out how important the sense of smell is for tasting.
A willing proband (test participant)
Various vegetables, e.g. cucumber, pepper, carrot, kohlrabi,...
Various fruits, e.g. apple, pear, banana, mango, avocado,...
A scarf or sleeping mask to cover the eyes
A clothes peg to clamp the nose shut
First of all, prepare the ingredients and utensils. The preparations for this experiment are very quick. All you have to do is cut the selected fruits and vegetables into small cubes and you are ready to go. If you still have problems with cutting or don't feel confident using a knife, ask an adult for help. You can also do this step together with your test person, which makes it even more fun!
Blindfold the test person and hold his or her nose. Then the tasting can begin. Give the person a small cube each and let them guess which fruit or vegetable it is. You will notice that it is not that easy. After your taster has finished, you can swap and try your luck yourself.
Have you ever had a cold and suddenly everything tastes a bit boring? Just like a cold, this experiment can be explained by the interaction between the senses of smell and taste. Because even though the taste buds on the tongue are responsible for the actual tasting, the nose is also very important for tasting. The tongue only has receptors for sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. In order for us to be able to perceive more complex tastes, we need the support of the nose. The olfactory cells in the nose perceive the smell of the food and can analyse it precisely. This happens before we put the food in our mouths, but also while we are chewing, because this releases aromas that reach the olfactory cells.
in trying it out!
If you then touch the food with your hands, you perceive additional information with your sense of touch. The sensory cells provide information about whether the food is hot, cold, hard or soft. The tongue can also detect this, by the way.
If the food is placed in the mouth and spread by the chewing movement, the food pulp also reaches the taste buds on the tongue and can be analysed there by the sensory cells. Here, the flavours sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami can be perceived.
During chewing, aromas are also released, which rise through the oral cavity into the nose. The nose supports the tongue and can detect many other substances in addition to the five tastes.
All the information received is transported to the brain via the corresponding nerves and analysed there.
Exciting facts about vision in general
The tongue is the only muscle in the human body where the muscle fibres can contract in all directions. This makes it easy for you to feel things with your tongue and you can roll your tongue. Have you ever tried to form a roll with your tongue? Don't worry if you can't do it straight away, some people can do it straight away and others find it difficult. However, it can be learned.
You already know that the tongue can do a lot, but there's more! The tongue, or rather saliva, can even help you clean your teeth. The saliva removes soluble substances that have stuck to the teeth and can even break down sugar a little and thus pre-digest it. In addition, saliva provides the tooth enamel with important minerals that protect it.
Of course, you still need to brush your teeth, but it's best to do this 30 minutes after eating so that your tongue and tooth enamel have enough time to react. If you don't have enough time, brush your teeth before eating, which is even better.
Everyone knows it, but it seems a bit strange at first. Why do you sometimes bite your tongue, even though it is in the middle of your mouth? During the chewing process, the tongue is sometimes responsible for ensuring that the food is correctly positioned between the teeth so that it can be properly crushed. To prevent the tongue from getting between the teeth itself, the process is well coordinated with chewing. In rare cases, this coordination does not work so well and you accidentally bite your tongue.
Spiciness is not a taste and is not perceived by the taste buds. When you eat something spicy, it triggers an irritation of the receptors for pain and heat. These receptors are also located on the mucous membrane of the tongue. That's why spicy food always feels particularly hot.
Since everyone has a different sense of pain, spiciness is also perceived differently. The Scoville scale was introduced so that you can still estimate how hot a chilli pepper is when you buy it. The more Scoville a chilli has, the hotter it is.
When we feel pain because we have eaten something spicy, our brain reacts to it. It releases happiness hormones to relieve the pain. These happy hormones, the so-called endorphins, have a similar effect to strong painkillers and provide an intoxicating high.
If you have the opportunity, ask your grandparents how many flavours there are. Maybe they will tell you that there are only four flavours, because the umami taste was only discovered a little later and they learned something different at school. In the future, there may even be a sixth taste for fatty foods. Researchers are currently trying to find out whether we perceive fatty foods only through smell or also through receptors on the tongue.
Tongue piercings are a popular body jewellery nowadays and in most cases are inserted without any problems. However, since an injury to the tongue is necessary here, some unwanted damage is also possible. Inflammation and swelling are the most common, but injury to a nerve can also occur if the piercing is positioned incorrectly, or damage to the teeth if the piercing rubs against them.
As well all know, taste is a matter of taste... but what is "taste", exactly? In the narrower sense, we mean the "sense" of taste, i.e. direct perception on the tongue. The way in which we perceive flavour, however, results in particular from a combination of our senses of smell, taste and touch. It is the interplay of these senses that determines whether we like the taste of a given food or dish.
Smell and taste are the oldest of the senses. They are essential for survival, having evolved to play key roles in such basic processes as feeding, mating, and avoiding danger. As the two chemical senses, they work by allowing tiny bits -molecules- of the outside world into the body, and binding to them.
©2021 The Dana Foundation
There was once a restaurant which had orange and beetroot jelly on the menu. The dish, served at The Fat Duck in Berkshire in the early 2000s, consisted of two cubes; one purple, the other bright orange. Whenever the waiter served it, they always advised the diner to begin with the beetroot. More often than not, the customer would dig in to the purple cube.
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