• AChemS Education Corner

Fooling Your Tongue With Sugar

Contributor: Maria Veldhuizen, The John B Pierce Laboratory and Yale School of Medicine, Connecticut, USA

Target audience: Ages 6 and older.

Goal(s): Illustrate that the perception of tastes is influenced by other sensory modalities, like touch.

  • A cup of water with sugar dissolved in it;
  • A cup of pure water;
  • Three Q-tips per person.
  • Take three Q-tips and dip two of them into the sugar water and one into regular water;
  • Position the Q-tips in a row and put the one with regular water in the middle;
  • Pick them up like in the figure;
  • Ask the person to stick their tongue out and swab the three Q-tips over their tongue towards the tip;
  • Ask them what they are tasting.
  • Ask them whether they are able to perceive that the Q-tip in the middle does not have a sweet taste.
Take-home message: How something feels in your mouth will change the way you taste. It can feel like there is a taste wherever your mouth is touched, even though there may be no taste at all.

If you want to read up more on this topic try this scientific paper:
Green, B. G. (2003). Studying taste as a cutaneous sense. Food Quality and Preference, 14(2), 99-109.