Science corner

9th January 2004 at 00:00
Sophie Duncan shows how students can explore their sense of taste

Your tongue has 10,000 taste buds, each of which is sensitive to five types of taste. These experiments help students explore their sense of taste.

Make sure no one taking part is allergic to anything they are going to taste.

Make a number of solutions of different things - for example sugar, salt, and lemon juice. Create three concentrations of each - weak, medium and strong. Start by using the strongest solutions. Your students should dip a cocktail stick in one of the solutions and carefully touch their tongue with the stick. Use a fresh stick for hygiene reasons if dipping again. By using a mirror they should be able to work out which parts of their tongue are sensitive to which solutions. It is helpful to drink water when they change from one solution to another to clear their palate.

Once they have completed these experiments they can draw a map showing which parts of their tongue are sensitive to which solutions. To find out how sensitive they are to different tastes, use the medium or weak versions of the solutions, making sure your students test each in the area most sensitive to that taste.

We do not all have the same number of tastebuds. Use a cotton bud to apply a thin layer of blue food colouring to your tongue. Mark out a small area of your tongue with a piece of paper that has a 7mm-wide hole punched in it, such as a reinforcer for the holes in file paper. Count the number of pink dots showing in that area. These pink bumps are where your tastebuds are located, and they do not take up the blue colouring. There may be between around 15 and 40 bumps - the more you have the more sensitive to taste you are.

You can find out more about your sense of taste at www.bbc.co.uksciencehumanbody Sophie Duncan is project manager for science at the BBC www.bbc.co.ukscience

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