• AChemS Education Corner

Your Nose, A Great Detective

Contributor: Géraldine Coppin, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland

Target audience: Ages 6 and older.

Goal(s): To illustrate that “flavor” is a multisensory perception (and that “tastes” only refer to sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami). Also, if desired, to introduce the concepts of retronoasal and orthonasal olfaction.

  • A specific candy or any food items relevant for the culture.
  • Nose clips (or you can just pinch the nose closed if you don’t have clips)
  • Set up the nose clip on the participant’s nose (you can make it playful with kids);
  • Ask the participant to close their eyes and tell them that you will put some food in their mouth and that they will have to guess what it is;
  • Then, ask them to open their mouth, and with their eyes closed, put the candy in their mouth;
  • Next, tell them they can chew but not swallow just yet. Ask them what they perceive and what it tastes like. The participant is likely to say sweet (and maybe sour, depending on the candy used), but nothing else;
  • Finally, gently remove the nose clip (or ask them to unpinch their nose) and ask the participant to again describe the taste and to guess what they have in their mouth. This time, they will likely correctly guess the flavor, and maybe recognize the object (whether it is a candy, perhaps which candy, etc).
Take-home message: Without smelling (or olfaction to be specific), what we eat and drink simply has a taste, but not a flavor.

If you want to read up more on this topic try this scientific paper:
Rozin, P. (1982). “Taste-smell confusions” and the duality of the olfactory sense. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 31(4), 397-401.