PacSci Perspectives

Scary Scents: A Gutsy DIY

Oct 26, 2016

Smells are like ghosts. Even though you can’t see them, you can sense them. Unlike ghosts, however, scientists have proved that the relationship between what you smell and what you taste is real. Challenge yourself to experience, firsthand, the spooky side effects of smell.

What you’ll need:

  • A blindfold
  • Plates
  • 2 or 3 potatoes
  • Scent samples: vanilla extract, peppermint, peanut butter, cinnamon, and coffee
  • A partner

The process:

Cut the potatoes into thin slices (5 slices for each participant). Prepare samples of each scent.

  1. Put on your blindfold (don’t get spooked!). Hiding your eyes helps you focus on the ghost smells.
  2. Pinch your nose and bite into a plain potato slice. Note what it tastes like.
  3. Keep your blindfold on! Now have your partner put one of the scent samples near enough that you can smell it. Without pinching your nose, take a bite of the potato. Note how it tastes different.
  4. Repeat the process with all of the scent samples, and then let your partner have a turn.

Compare notes with your lab partner. Did the smells produce a “ghost taste?” Which smells affected you the most?

How does this work?

What we call “flavor,” is, actually, 70 percent smell. The stronger the smell of a food, the more intense the taste (generally speaking). Taste is very subjective; it can also be affected by other people’s comments and the texture of food. A potato might be confused for an apple, if you smell cinnamon and someone is talking about apples These “phantom effects” define taste.

You can explore this, and more, at Pacific Science Center’s Wellbody Academy.