When it comes to food, everyone has their own opinion on what is delicious and what is wholly repulsive. While some enjoy a generous helping of marmite, olives or blue cheese on their plate, others will have a feeling of deep dread in the pit of their stomach about the thought of eating them. There really isn’t much to be done about matters of personal taste but a more important question is: how do we taste at all?
We all know that some foods taste better than others – in our own opinions – but what gives us the ability to experience all these unique flavours? This simple experiment shows that there is a lot more to taste than you might have first thought.
- A small piece of peeled potato
- A small piece of peeled apple (it must be the same shape as the potato so you can’t tell the difference)
- Close your eyes and mix up the piece of potato and the piece of apple so you don’t know which is which.
- Hold your nose and eat each piece, can you tell the difference?
Holding your nose while tasting the potato and apple makes it harder to tell the difference between the two. Your nose and mouth are connected through the same airway which means that you taste and smell foods at the same time.
Your sense of taste can recognise salty, sweet, bitter and sour but when you combine this with your sense of smell you can recognise many other individual ‘tastes’. Take away your smell (and sight) and you limit your brain’s ability to tell the difference between certain foods. Our sense of smell in responsible for about 80% of what we taste.
This is why when people have a cold and their noses are blocked, most foods seem bland or tasteless. Also, our sense of smell becomes stronger when we are hungry.
Explore which sense is more dominant – taste or smell? For some foods, smell might overwhelm our recognition of taste. Blindfold a volunteer and ask them to try a slice of apple. Tell them you want them to smell the flavour of the food while they are eating it. Put a slice of fresh onion under their noses when they start to taste the apple. Do they taste apple or onion? Discuss what this result says about our sense of smell.
Try other food combinations to continue your experiment and never underestimate the power of your nose!