The Science of Flavor


We don’t all experience flavor the same way. How we taste a food’s flavor can be affected by colors, temperature—and music? (The Guardian)

Watch our video to understand the science of taste.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Video courtesy National Geographic Channel
Watch the video to understand why this classic diagram of the tongue’s taste receptors is wrong.
Video courtesy National Geographic Channel

Discussion Ideas


  • What are some foods associated with each of the five major tastes?
    • sweet: candy, fresh fruits such as strawberries and peaches, soda
    • salty: salt, soy sauce
    • bitter: coffee, tea, unsweetened chocolate, greens such as kale
    • sour: citrus fruit (and candy that contains citric acid, such as lemon drops or Sour Patch Kids), vinegar, spoiled milk
    • umami: meat, tomatoes, cheese, soy sauce


  • Read through the short Guardian article as well as our “A Matter of Taste” media spotlight. Besides taste, what are some other factors that can influence a person’s perception of a food’s flavor?
    • color—what color is the food or the dishes it is served on?
    • music—what kind of sounds are being heard while food is eaten?
    • smell
    • texture—is it liquid? mushy? hard?
    • temperature—is it hot? room-temperature? cold? freezing?
    • sensation—is it “hot” (like chili peppers)? Is it “cool” (like mint)?


  • Conduct your own experiments!
    • Get a hold of some PTC papers to see if your class has any “supertasters” or “non-tasters.” (PTC paper is a safe, inexpensive item available to most school labs.)
    • Mix up the flavors of familiar foods to see how people react:
      • color: Duplicate the Guardian experiment, and serve kettle corn or caramel corn in different-colored bowls—do testers taste a difference?
      • texture and temperature: Have testers try some hot soup. Then, freeze the soup in an ice tray overnight. (Make sure to put toothpicks or popsicle sticks in the soup cubes.) Have the testers try the “soup pops” to see if the change in texture and temperature has changed the flavor.
      • smell: Have testers eat a bite of a food. Then, ask them to plug their noses (with swim plugs, clothespins, or even their fingers). Have them test again. Does a food’s flavor change if the tester can’t smell it?
      • music: Pick your favorite candy. Have one group of testers taste the candy while listening to “sweet” music. Have another group of testers taste the candy while listening to “bitter” music. Do they report the same flavor?



The Guardian: Explore the Science of Flavour

Nat Geo: The Science of Taste

Learn Genetics: PTC—Genes and Bitter Taste

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