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The Connection Between Taste, Smell, and Flavor

Polly Dornette
eCommerce Content Manager

November 2016


The sense of taste and smell are closely related. Humans can distinguish 5 different taste sensations: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. However, we can detect thousands of different smells. The sense of smell, or “olfaction,” is actually the sense that allows us to distinguish a wide variety of flavors. Are you ready to explore the relationship between these senses?

This activity requires a partner. Before beginning, determine who will be the taster and who will be the recorder. The recorders will also need to read the procedural steps aloud since the tasters will have their eyes closed for most of the activity.


Materials

For each group

  • Skittles® Candy (3 each of 5 different colors per student)
  • Food-Safe Cup
  • Pen or Pencil


Safety

Wash your hands thoroughly before handling the candy. This activity involves eating, and therefore should not be performed in the lab.


Procedure

  1. In your group, decide who will be the taster and who will be the recorder.
  2. Determine the flavor of each candy color.

    1. Instruct the taster to put 1 candy of each color in the cup.
    2. Record the color of each candy on the data table.
    3. Instruct the taster to select a candy from the cup.
    4. Have the taster show the recorder the color of the candy.
    5. Have the taster taste the candy and state its flavor.
    6. Record the flavor identified on the data table under “candy flavor.”
    7. Repeat steps until 1 candy of each of the 5 colors has been tasted.
  3. Determine the flavor without seeing the color.

    1. Instruct the taster to put 1 candy of each color in the cup.
    2. Have the taster close his/her eyes and keep them closed.
    3. Have the taster complete steps 2c to 2g with eyes closed. Record the flavors identified on the data table under “flavor with eyes closed.”
  4. Determine the flavor by taste only.

    1. Have the taster open his/her eyes to place the remaining candies in a cup. There should be 1 of each color remaining.
    2. Have the taster close his/her eyes and pinch his/her nose to minimize the ability to detect the scent of the candy. Eyes should remain closed and noses should remain pinched through the rest of the procedure. (Tasters should not open their eyes or stop pinching their noses at any time, even between candies.)
    3. Have the taster complete steps 2c to 2g with eyes closed and nose pinched. Record the flavors identified on the data table under “flavor with eyes and nose closed.”
  5. Trade roles and repeat the procedure.

Sample Data Table


Name of Taster
Candy 1 Candy 2 Candy 3 Candy 4 Candy 5
Candy color          
Candy flavor          
Flavor with eyes closed          
Flavor with eyes and nose closed          


Extension activity

Based on what you learned in this activity, explain why you have a difficult time tasting your food when you have a cold.

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