Food Scientists Bring New Attention to Taste

Youth Radio invited author and food scientist Barb Stuckey to our studios to give us a taste of her book, Taste What You’re Missing. On the tables there were plates with multiple cups filled with unknown liquids, a jelly bean, some crackers, a strawberry, and a couple other small treats. I felt a little as if I were the hamster in a science project, but I was excited. I had never been to a presentation where audience participation was key.

We began by taking sips from the color-coded cups and discovered the five tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. I had never heard of umami, but it tasted like miso soup. As unfavorable as some of these tasted, they were all familiar in some way.


Next, Barb demonstrated the difference between taste and smell. We used a straw to smell a mystery food in a cup. When I sucked in the air, I found out I could taste very aged cheese. That’s when I learned that we can smell through our mouths, which is why taste and smell are often interchanged when we talk about them.

Then Barb had us plug our noses prior to eating a jelly bean. I was a little surprised that when I put one in my mouth, I only tasted sweetness. But then when I unplugged my nose, it felt like my mouth was overwhelmed with flavor. Barb clarified that because we can only sense five different tastes, everything else we “tasted” was actually a flavor based on what we could smell. I thought about how when I watched Fear Factor, I always saw people cover their noses when they had to eat cow brains or maggots, but I had never understood the correlation between closing your nose and what goes in your mouth.

Being a film and food junkie, I like to eat as if I were in the movie Ratatouille — trying to taste and smell the goodness of every bite. With the lessons I learned from Barb, I can enjoy the tastes, smells, and textures that make up the food experience that much more.

This Brains and Beakers was hosted by Youth Radio’s Yohan Callen. Text by Tajah Jones/ Video by Jenny Bolario

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Brains and Beakers takes science out of the lab and turns it into a live event! Youth Radio’s young journalists host scientists, tinkerers and makers of all sorts at our Oakland studio for live demos and interviews. Check out more from Youth Radio’s science desk here, including Reinventing musical instruments and Green Chemistry.


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