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Can You Taste With a Plugged Nose? How Smell Affects TasteFeatured science projectScience project video


Have you ever had a cold and your nose was so stuffy that you food just didn't taste the same? Your sense of smell and your sense of taste are closely related. In this science project, you'll investigate how the two senses work together to help you taste different flavors. Three other volunteer "tasters" will sample various baby foods, fruits, vegetables and meat, while blind folded with their nose plugged. The taster will be asked if they can tell what type of baby food they tasted. They will then see if they can identify the food without their nose plugged, but still blindfolded.


If someone's nose is plugged and cannot smell, then they cannot detect food flavors as well as when they are only blindfolded.


In this science project, you will find out how removing the ability to smell (by plugging your nose) limits how well the tongue can determine the taste food. The sense of sight will also not be used so the "tasters" cannot see what they are eating either.

Scientific Terms

taste buds, salty, sweet, sour, bitter, umami (savory), olfactory tract


The flavor of food is a sensory experience that is a combination of taste and smell. We use both our sense of taste and our sense of smell when we eat food. Both the tongue and the nose detect the chemicals in food, which then tells our brain the flavor of what we are eating.

There are about 10,000 tiny receptors covering the tongue. These are called taste buds. Taste buds detect five distinct types of tastes each on a different area of the tongue: salty, bitter, sweet, sour and umami (savory).

taste bud receptors

Far back inside nose in what's called the nasal cavity resides a small patch of nerves called the olfactory tract. The chemicals given off by foods are picked up by the nerves in the olfactory tract, which then tell the brain what food is being smelled. These nerves also assist in detecting taste.

olfactory bud and nerve - our sense of smell

The nose and the tongue work best together when it comes to enjoying the flavors of food. When the olfactory tract inside the nose cannot assist in the process of detecting the chemicals in food, the taste buds on the tongue are less able to effectively distinguish tastes. The result is that you cannot completely tell the flavor of a food. With the nose plugged and the eyes closed, one cannot tell the difference between an apple and a pear as both have a very similar texture. One would be more likely to distinguish between a pretzel and an apple though as these foods have different, distinct textures. Comparing foods with similar textures with the eyes closed and nose plugged best demonstrates how smell affects taste.

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    Take into consideration food allergies and ask your "tasters" about any food allergies they have. Also, be considerate that some people do not like to be blindfolded. If a volunteer does not want to be blind folded, have them close their eyes. Be sure to use a clean spoon for each sample being tasted.