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Beanboozled Challenge

In this activity, students discover that the sense of taste can be tricked when they are given identical-looking jellybeans and asked to describe the flavours.

Some flavors are easy to guess, while others are unexpected and therefore difficult to guess. This is because when we attempt to recognize the unexpected flavours, we must access memories of tastes that include things like tandoori chicken, hot fudge sundaes and salmon sushi as well as items we haven’t tasted such barf or baby wipes.

Taste buds

The tongue and the roof of the mouth are covered with thousands of tiny taste buds. When food rubs against the taste buds, it causes the sensation we call taste. When you eat something, the saliva in your mouth helps break down the food. This causes the receptor cells located in your tastes buds (gustatory receptor cells) to send messages through sensory nerves to your brain. Your brain then tells you the different flavours you have tasted.

Taste buds can recognize five basic kinds of tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and the newly discovered “umami” (savoury). All taste sensations come from all regions of the tongue and are not confined to specific regions (a tongue map) as once thought. A single taste bud contains 50–100 taste cells representing all 5 taste types.

Tastes

Everyone's tastes are different. Foods do not taste the same to everyone. Taste is probably the most subjective of the senses.

Tastes change as we age. Babies have taste buds, not only on the tongue, but also on the sides and roof of the mouth. This means that they are very sensitive to different foods.

As we grow, the taste buds began to disappear from the sides and roof of the mouth, leaving taste buds mostly on the tongue. As we get older, taste buds become less sensitive, so we will be more likely to eat foods that we thought were too strong as a child. In general, girls have more taste buds than boys.

Without Taste

People with taste disorders or even smell disorders have distorted taste or no sense of taste at all. Things like medications, smoking, not getting enough of the right vitamins, injury to the head, brain tumors, chemical exposure, and the effects of radiation can cause taste disorders. This can lead to a loss of appetite, anxiety, and a low quality of life. Most of us enjoy eating and love tasting delicious food – imagine not being able to taste the food you love! Food poisoning is also more likely because the person cannot taste whether or not something is wrong with the food.

Objectives

  • Outline how the body’s taste buds detect different tastes.

  • Identify and explore the five basic senses.

  • Explore the connection between different senses.

Materials

  • Per Class:
    jelly beans in regular and unexpected (horrible) flavours (e.g. Jelly Belly Beanboozled jellybeans)
    small cups or containers

Key Questions

  • Why is it important for your taste buds to distinguish between popcorn and rotten egg?
  • What could you do to make it easier to eat the horrible flavour jelly beans? (Hold your nose).

What To Do

Set up

  1. Separate the jellybeans into different colours. Some will be a regular flavour (e.g. strawberry) and others will be a weird flavour (e.g. centipede).

Activity

  1. Explain that the taste buds on the tongue can recognize four basic kinds of tastes: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter, and that this experiment is called a taste test.
  2. Tell the students that they will each get to taste some jellybeans and they have to guess the flavours.
  3. Pass around the jellybeans in little cups, ask the students to taste each bean (going colour by colour, one at a time), when you say so and have them guess the flavour.
  4. After each tasting and guessing session, reveal the true flavour of each coloured jellybean.
  5. Explain that taste is the weakest of the five senses. The sense of taste can be tricked to a certain extent – the horrible jellybeans looked and smelled like regular jellybeans. It was only when the jellybeans had been chewed and some of the flavour molecules were detected that the students found out how foul the ingredients were.

Extensions

  • Hold an extended taste testing party. Set up bite-sized pieces of several foods for the students to try. Find items that have different tastes such as salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. Foods with different textures are also good to serve. Think about crunchy, juicy, soft, dry, wet, hard, and chewy foods.
  • Have a blindfolded taste test competition.
  • 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 hypothesis, have the students to dry their tongues thoroughly with a clean paper towel. Once their tongues are dry, get them to taste a few samples of salt, sugar or other dry foods. Have them rinse their mouths and dry theirs tongue after each test. What did they notice?