Have you ever heard that taste and smell are linked? Test the connections between your senses with an experiment that requires eating candy!
Time: 5 – 10 minutes
Topics: senses, taste, smell, molecules
What you need:
- Jelly beans with similar colors but distinct flavors (such as cherry and cinnamon, lemon and pina colada, or pear and lime)
- Another person
What to do:
1. Ask the other person to find two jelly beans of similar colors, but different flavors. Tell them to show you the jelly beans but not tell you what the flavors are. Do not eat them yet.
2. Make a prediction about the flavor of the jelly beans. Can you guess what flavor each jelly bean is by looking at it? Why did you make that guess?
3. Pinch your nose closed (so you can’t smell anything) and chew one of the jelly beans for a few seconds. What do you taste? What flavor do you think it is?
4. Now let go of your nose and chew normally to finish the jelly bean.
- What do you taste now? Can you smell anything?
- Were there any changes in the taste of the candy from the beginning to the end of the experiment?
5. Repeat steps 2-5 with the second jelly bean.
- What did you taste or smell this time?
- Was one flavor easier to tell than the other? Did either flavor surprise you?
6. Other ideas to try:
- Try a blind taste test. Hold your nose and close your eyes, and have another person give you different flavors of jelly bean to identify. How easy is it to identify flavors just by taste? By taste and smell? How does knowing the jelly bean’s color influence your guesses? Why do you think that is?
- Try the taste/smell test with other foods or drinks. What parts of the flavor can you taste when you hold your nose? What differences do you notice when you add your sense of smell back in?
Approximately 80 – 90% of what you perceive as "taste" is actually due to your sense of smell. Your tongue has only a few types of taste receptors that identify basic tastes like sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and savory. Your olfactory (scent) organs, on the other hand, have about 400 different receptors and can identify hundreds of thousands of individual scents. So, it’s actually smell that lets you experience the complex, mouthwatering flavors you associate with your favorite foods. Just think about how dull food tastes when you have a head cold or a stuffed-up nose!
In this experiment, you probably tasted just a sensation of sweetness or sourness at first and had trouble identifying the specific flavor of the candy. However, if you were patient, you might have noticed that as you chewed you could eventually identify the flavor, even with your nose still closed. This is because some scent molecules travel up to the olfactory organs through a "back door"--a passage at the back of your throat that connects to your nose.