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Two Kid-Friendly Taste Experiments

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Have you heard "I'm bored" one too many times this summer? Set your kids up with these two easy and fun experiments that will teach them all about our sense of taste!

When we eat food, it is a sensory experience. The mouth and teeth and tongue and nose and taste buds and brain all work together to observe a food’s texture, smell, temperature, and taste. Together all these qualities become the way a person perceives a food’s unique flavor. Taste technically is what is observed by the brain when a chemical reaction occurs. A substance in the mouth (for example, a bite of apple) reacts chemically with parts of the taste buds.

Experiment 1: Test your taste buds

We know that taste buds help us identify the flavors of food. In this experiment, you will discover if different parts of the tongue react differently to the different characteristics of food like sweet, sour, salty and bitter).

photo of a tongueWhat you need

  • 4 small bowls, with a couple tablespoons of the following
    • Salty water
    • Sugary water
    • Lemon juice and water or vinegar and water
    • Tonic water
  • Cotton swabs
  • Small cup of water

Instructions

Soak end of cotton swab in a solution. Then, lightly touch the cotton swab to a location on the tongue. Pause to notice how intense the taste is. Touch the swab to a different part of the tongue and observe if there are differences in taste. Be gentle when touching the swab to the back of the tongue to avoid gagging. Try with all four types of solution. Drink water between trying different solutions.

What do you find? Are there specific zones of taste?

What exactly are taste buds, anyway?

Taste buds are nerve ending on tongue and inside the mouth. Imagine that taste buds are like tiny walkie-talkies that communicate with the brain. A taste bud sends signals to the brain when stimulated by specific chemicals, producing the sense of taste. Taste buds are classified according to the type of substance they respond to: sweet, salty, bitter, or sour.

Some fun facts about taste buds:

  • Kids perceive taste more intensely and accurately than older people.
  • Taste protects us. The brain perceives bitter as possibly poisonous.
  • The scientific term for tasting is gustation.

Experiment 2: Why do we have saliva?

The process of tasting food requires a wet environment in the mouth created by saliva. Substances in food dissolve in saliva, which allows them to be detected by the taste buds. In this experiment, you will test how the absence of saliva affects tasting food.

What you need

  • Paper towels
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Small cup of water

Instructions

Fold the paper towel and use it to dry the surface and sides of your tongue. Then, sprinkle a little salt on your tongue. Observe what you taste. Drink some water. Does the taste change? Sip some water to rinse the taste from your mouth. Dry your tongue with paper towels. Repeat experiment with sugar. For fun, ask someone to help you and not tell you which substance is which to see if you can detect sweet or salty.


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