Taste – Science for Kids

There are lots of fun taste science activities you can do with kids, but you can only do a few in any given class session without over-loading their bellies and taste buds. So, if you have a week with your kids in a home school, try one per day. If you’re only doing one session on this, pick just one or two ideas.

Taster bottles: We had five flavors of liquids: salt water for salty, sugar water for sweet, lemon juice for sour, soy sauce for umami, and baking cocoa mixed with water for bitter (you need to heat it a bit to dissolve the powder. Another bitter option would be to take black tea and brew it for a long time – 10 minutes or so – to make a really strong tea.) We had pipettes with each. We had an adult man the station, to minimize germ contagion (i.e. the child putting the pipette in their mouth, sucking sugar water out and putting it back in the container!) You could either ask children to tip their heads back and open their mouths and drip a few drops on their tongue. Or, you can put a few drops in a spoon and they drink it off the spoon. (Original idea from Gift of Curiosity, more ideas at Living Montessori Now.)  Ask them which taste they think it represents.

Another method for this would be: Use q-tips and water and powders. They dip q-tip in water, then in powder, then taste, then throw away q-tip. Powders: salt, sugar, baking cocoa (bitter), and powdered miso soup (umami), and True Lemon which is citric acid and lemon juice.

To extend this activity, you could also ask them “what foods taste sour [sweet, etc.]” and make lists of ideas. Or, you could take them to the kitchen and have them find foods for each category.

Tongue Mapping: Use the q-tips and powdered flavors exercise to have kids figure out what parts of their tongue are the most sensitive to various tastes. Here’s the science of it: http://www.westminster.edu/about/community/sim/pdf/tasteexperiment.pdf and here are alternate methods: http://www.raisingthecameronclan.com/homeschooling/2012/01/30/tongue-mapping/ and http://www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/article/science-nature-activities/home-science-experiments-tongue-map and http://pbskids.org/zoom/activities/sci/tonguemap.html

Miracle fruit (aka miracle berry or miraculous fruit) is a small berry native to West Africa. After eating it, molecules bond to your tongue’s taste receptors and makes sour foods taste sweet – for example, it makes lemons taste like very sweet lemonade.

Amazon sells several Miracle Fruit Tablets you can try – they’re about $1.25 to $1.50 each so we did not use them in our class. After taking them, the effect will last ten to 70 minutes (for longest lasting effect, use dental floss to “scrape” your tongue ten times or so to minimize any coating on it, then when you put the tablet in your mouth, move it around as it dissolves so it comes into contact with all your tongue)

Foods to try with them: lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges, cranberries, pineapple, kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, pickles, granny smith apples.

Snacks: Here are some ideas…

    • Taste testing apples: we had four varieties of apples. Children were asked to try a slice of each and decide what their favorite was, and try to describe the different tastes. This taught vocabulary like sweet, tart, juicy, crisp, sour, grainy.


    • You could do a wide variety of taste tests – compare four different types of goldfish crackers, or four citrus fruits, and so on.
    • Have four to five items, each representing a taste – raisins for sweet, pretzels or tortilla chips for salty, salsa for spicy, and granny smith apples for tart. (Could do vegemite or mushrooms for umami.) Kids were encouraged to taste each.
    • During snack time, encourage kids to try plugging their nose while eating to see if that changes their perception of how the item tasted.
    • Popcorn: kids were asked how many senses they use when eating popcorn. Can you smell it? Did you hear it popping? Now can you hear it crunching in your mouth? Can you see it – what does it look like? Can you taste it? Can you feel it – what does it feel like? (Note: the book Let’s Play a Five Senses Guessing Game ends with this activity, so the book and snack are a great pairing.)
    • Have each child bring in a favorite food to share.
Experiment: Which is strongest? Another taste idea: mix three to five cups with varying strengths of the same substance (for example, 100% juice; 75% juice / 25% water; 50/50, 25/75, 100% water). Have them taste each, and put in order from strongest to weakest.
Circle Time Activity – tell kids you’ll list off various foods. If they like it, they should stand up. If they don’t like it, they sit down.
Taste – to discuss: If we had more time, there’s more to discuss. For example, that not all things are safe to taste! (If you do a poisoning prevention curriculum, here’s a great place to bring it in.) Also, the idea that most things that aren’t safe to eat taste bad to us, so if something they thought was OK to eat tastes bad, they should ask a grown-up. But, on the other hand, some things that are good for us don’t taste good. For example, many bitter foods are full of healthy antioxidants, but kids tend not to like bitter tastes.
Why we need salt: A fun experiment to do someday over breakfast. Make oatmeal without any salt. Put on what should be plenty of sugar and have your child taste it. Is it sweet enough? No? Then sprinkle on and stir in just a little salt. Now is it sweet enough? Yes. A little salt helps your tongue taste the sweet. (This also works with hot chocolate. My son thought the hot chocolate in a cafeteria machine was too weak (i.e. not sweet enough) but discovered that if he adds a dash of salt, the hot chocolate tastes great.)
Book:  Your Tongue Can Tell: Discover Your Sense Of Taste by Cobb is for ages 8 – 10, so not something I would use in my class, but it was a great resource for me as a teacher in providing a detailed overview of the science of taste at a level one step up from one the kids can comprehend, but giving me a good base level of knowledge to answer any question they ask. Fun trivia: spicy hot is not a taste… it is an irritation of your pain sensors… it’s your sense of touch that tells you something is spicy. Minty thngs have menthol – they seem cool, even though they’re not.
More books and more info: I have an overview of the five senses and a review of lots of great kids books on the 5 senses at: https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2017/03/17/5-senses-2/


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