How Does Smell Affect Taste?

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Author: Beth Touchette

Both your sense of smell and sense of taste detect chemicals. Your tongue is covered with about 10,000 taste buds, which detect five different kinds of tastes: salty, bitter, sweet, sour and umami. Umami, discovered by the Japanese, means delicious in that language. Umami taste buds detect savory flavors. You also have some taste buds on the roof of your mouth and inner surface of your cheeks. The chemical receptors involved in your sense of smell are located in a postage stamp-sized patch of nerve cells called the olfactory tract located at the roof of each nasal cavity.  These receptors can detect up to a thousand different types of chemicals. 

Have you ever noticed how food tastes different when you have a cold?  Smell and taste are definitely connected. Let’s investigate. 

Problem: How does smell affect taste?


  • 15  volunteers, none of whom are allergic to any of the foods you are giving them.  You might ask about strawberries especially.
  • Assortment of fruit
  • Knife
  • Cutting board
  • 3 large plates
  • Q-tips
  • Essential oil of peppermint
  • Clipboard
  • Pencil
  • Plain crackers
  • Water
  • Cups


  1. Before you start your experiment, make sure that each of your volunteers is aware that he or she is participating in an experiment related to smell and taste. Ask about any allergies to fruit or peppermint oil.
  2. Create a data table you can fill in quickly as you test each volunteer. Make a copy for each volunteer (see example below).


 Peppermint Oil

Nose plugged










Kiwi fruit





















  1. Chop the fruit into bit-sized pieces. You need three pieces of each kind of fruit for each volunteer.   
  2. Stick a toothpick in each piece of fruit.
  3. Make sure all different types of fruit are cut into pieces of the same size and that there are no pieces of fruit skin or seeds. 
  4. Make piles of each type of fruit on each of the three plates.
  5. For one plate of fruit, use the cotton swab to dab a drop of peppermint oil on each piece of fruit.
  6. Do not let your volunteers see the plates of fruit. Also, they will need to shut their eyes or be blindfolded throughout the experiment.
  7. Test each volunteer separately.  
  8. Start with the fruit with peppermint oil on top. Hand your volunteer a piece of fruit. Give her 3 seconds to identify the fruit. If she identifies the fruit correctly, put a check mark on the data table with her name. If she can’t identify the fruit or identifies it incorrectly, mark a 0 on her chart.
  9. After testing everybody with peppermint oil covered fruit, give each volunteer some time to rest, drink a glass of water, and eat a couple crackers. 
  10. Repeat the experiment, this time asking your volunteers to close their eyes and hold their noses as they taste each fruit. 
  11. Again, give your volunteers a rest before you do the final trial.
  12. For the next trial, your volunteers just need to shut their eyes. 
  13. Repeat the taste test and record the results in each data table.
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