Can You Taste It?

Few people are aware of how crucial the sense of smell is to identifying foods, or the adaptive value of being able to identify a food as being familiar and therefore safe to eat. In this lesson and activity, students conduct an experiment to determine whether or not the sense of smell is important to being able to recognize foods by taste. In an opening discussion, students explore why it might be adaptive for humans and other animals to be able to identify nutritious versus noxious foods. This is followed by a demonstration in which a volunteer tastes and identifies a familiar food, and then attempts to taste and identify a different familiar food while holding his or her nose and closing his or her eyes. Then, the class develops a hypothesis and a means to obtain quantitative results for an experiment to determine whether students can identify foods when the sense of smell has been eliminated.