You might think flavor is what happens on your tongue – and it is. But it’s also so much more.

Flavor is influenced by all the senses. How food looks, smells and feels can make a difference. Even the sounds you hear while eating can impact how you perceive taste.

We’ll visit a tastebud beauty salon, talk with a chef researcher and do some experiments provided by our friends at America’s Test Kitchen Kids. Plus: a three-part Mystery Sound and a Moment of Um that answers the question: “What makes spicy food spicy?”

Note: If you want to do the experiments along with us, congratulations, you can! You’ll need jellybeans, a blindfold and two pieces of dark chocolate. Listen, eat and yum!

This episode is a collaboration with our friends at America’s Test Kitchen Kids! They’re sharing access to their “The Nose Knows” experiment with Brains On listeners! Check out the whole activity right here.

Audio Transcript

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SPEAKER 1: You're listening to Brains On.

SPEAKER 2: Where we're serious about being curious.

SPEAKER 3: Brains On is supported, in part, by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

SANDEN TOTTEN: OK, how about the whisk?

MARC SANZHEZ: Oh, very sour lime.

SANDEN TOTTEN: And their granola?

MENAKA WILHELM: Definitely mashed peas.

SANDEN TOTTEN: OK. And the sponge?

MARC SANZHEZ: Chocolate cake.

MOLLY BLOOM: Hey, Sanden. Hey, Marc. Hey, Menaka. I'm just stopping by to get some water. But why is Marc eating a sponge?

MENAKA WILHELM: Oh, we had a little accident.

SANDEN TOTTEN: Yeah. You know how here in the lab kitchen, we like to make new food-based inventions? Well, we were finishing up a new device, the favor trader.

MENAKA WILHELM: It takes the flavor from one food item and swaps it with another.

SANDEN TOTTEN: Yes, you can make your mashed potatoes and gravy taste like pancakes and syrup.

MARC SANZHEZ: Or a sponge tastes like chocolate cake.

SANDEN TOTTEN: Marc, spit that out.


MENAKA WILHELM: We were firing it up for the first time, and it-- well, it didn't go so well.

MARC SANZHEZ: It blew up. Kabam, boom, kapow. Flavors went flying everywhere.

SANDEN TOTTEN: Now, all the flavors in the kitchen are totally mixed up. We need to find them, so we could switch them back.

MOLLY BLOOM: I see. Well, I would help, but I've got to get to a taping. I'll just grab my water here. Hot. Hot. Hot.

MENAKA WILHELM: Molly, are you--

SANDEN TOTTEN: Molly found the cayenne pepper.

MOLLY BLOOM: I need milk to quench this mouth fire. Oh, beef bouillon. Oh, maybe bread will help. Oh, sardines. Give me nose breath mints. Oh, it tastes like oyster sauce. Oh, no more food. Just wipe my tongue clean with this paper towel. Oh, ew.

SANDEN TOTTEN: What is it?

MOLLY BLOOM: I found out where the dirty sponge flavor went.

You're listening to Brains On from American Public Media. And my co-host today are Caitlin and Solomon from Oakland, California. Hi, you two.


SOLOMON: Hey, Molly.

MOLLY BLOOM: Do either of you have any gum? You know what, no, it's fine. Never mind. Today's episode was inspired by these questions.

AGAPE: This is Agape from Portland, Oregon. And my question is, what gives food is flavor?

ALLINA: My name is Alina, and I'm six years old. My question is, what gives different foods their flavor? Bye. We're big fans of your podcast.

MOLLY BLOOM: Hey, thanks. And we're big fans of your question.

CAITLIN: You might think flavors what happens on your tongue, and it is. But it's also so much more.

SOLOMON: Yeah flavor includes how food feels in your mouth. Is it crunchy, or soggy, or chewy?

CAITLIN: And how something smells. Is it woodsy, or smoky, or buttery?

MENAKA WILHELM: Flavor is also influenced by how food looks and even the sounds around you as you're eating.

SOLOMON: It's really a total sensory experience.

MOLLY BLOOM: Exactly. So for this episode, we're exploring flavor through the five senses-- sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. It's a collaboration with our friends at America's Test Kitchen kids.

SOLOMON: You'll be hearing expert eaters and curious cookers from their team later in the show.

MOLLY BLOOM: Speaking of cooking, Solomon and Caitlin, I know you both like to cook. Do you think about any of the senses besides taste when you're preparing a meal?

SOLOMON: I think of smell.

MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah, so what is your favorite smell when you're cooking?

SOLOMON: Probably the smell of like the heat. You smell the heat. It brings in the smell of the food, too.

MOLLY BLOOM: So is there a specialty that you have for cooking?

CAITLIN: I think my specialty is probably homemade sauces.

MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, do you have a favorite sauce?

CAITLIN: Yeah, actually, it's like a honey mustard sauce, but a little bit more tangy.

MOLLY BLOOM: So I know you two last year, cooked your entire Thanksgiving meal for your family on your own, which is so impressive. What was the most challenging part of taking on that really big job?

CAITLIN: Probably, for me, banana pudding. I was studying that for a very long time.

MOLLY BLOOM: Did your arm get tired?

CAITLIN: Yeah, definitely.

MOLLY BLOOM: So what made you want to take on that really big job?

CAITLIN: I think it all started out as just helping, and then we ended up taking it over. And it was pretty fun experience.


MOLLY BLOOM: Are you going to do it again this year?

SOLOMON: I think so.


SOLOMON: Probably with my sister because I can't handle it on my own.

MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah. That's a really big job. You can't do one person.

SOLOMON: Team effort.

MOLLY BLOOM: That's awesome. So what dish are you most looking forward to making this year?

SOLOMON: Probably oven-fried chicken.

MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, that sounds delicious. And Caitlin, how about you?

CAITLIN: Probably the stuffing. It was cool to have all what you took from the turkey and then also just extra ingredients and mix it all together.

MOLLY BLOOM: That sounds amazing. I wish I lived in San Francisco, so I could come over to your house, which I just invited myself to. OK, let's fire up the grill and get this episode cooking.

CAITLIN: The perfect place to start is with taste.

MOLLY BLOOM: And we're going to answer these delicious questions.

KALIMA: My name is kalima from Atlanta, Georgia. And my question is, how do people taste things?

BELLA: Hi. My name is Bella from Alfa, Minnesota. And my question is, how do our tongues taste the food in our mouth?

SOLOMON: Yeah, when we bite a burger, or slurp up soup, or chew on cheese, how does our brain know what it tastes like?

TRISTAN: Oh, hi, can you hear me? I think I can help with that.

CAITLIN: You're a talking toothbrush.

TRISTAN: That's me. You can call me Tristan. I spent a lot of time brushing teeth and tongues, too, got to keep that mouth bacteria in check. In fact, I consider myself a mouth stylist. While I'm working, the taste buds tell me all about taste. You know taste buds, right? There are these little tiny nubs that live in super small pits in your tongue. They sense tastes. They're too small to see. Normal toothbrushes don't really reach where taste buds live. But since I'm a magical, talking toothbrush. I get to help the taste buds style their hairs.

SOLOMON: Wow, taste bud hairs? Who knew?

TRISTAN: Here, I'm headed to an appointment you can drop in on. Follow me.

Elizabud, so good to see you. Head on back to my styling station. Hey, that really suits you.

ELIZABUD: Thanks, Tristan. I recently updated my wardrobe. I figure, I'm a taste bud, right? I'm made up of a bunch of different cells that are stuck together in the shape of a teeny tiny onion. I might as well flaunt it.

TRISTAN: Yeah, all of your cells are important, but let's not forget your beautiful taste hairs, Elizabud. They stick up like cute little sprouts, growing from your oniony shape. OK, technically, taste hairs aren't really hair. They're called taste hairs or gustatory hairs, but they're actually a part of the taste cells that's called microvilli. And more importantly, Elizabud, these beautiful hairs are how you sense tastes. These hairs do a lot for you.

ELIZABUD: I feel like a new bud after that shampoo. You haven't even styled me yet.

TRISTAN: I know. The way to a taste bud's heart is through its hairs.

ELIZABUD: Well, actually, our hairs are the weight of the brain. Oh, and speaking of, have I got a great story for you.

TRISTAN: I want all the deets.

ELIZABUD: So last night, our human was eating an orange.

TRISTAN: Ooh, juicy.

ELIZABUD: So the teeth were doing their thing, chewing orange slices, and tied spit were sweeping teensy weensy microscopic orange pieces my way.

TRISTAN: Oh. By the way, are we doing the usual today?

ELIZABUD: Yep, normal drying style is great. So anyway, my human keeps chewing, spit keeps flowing. I'm getting all these little taste chemicals in my hair. I had to send the brain a message. I was like, hey, brain, you'll never believe what tastes chemicals I have in my hair right now. Sour bits, a little sweetness, a tad bitter.

TRISTAN: Oh, so even though you're only one taste bud, you pick up multiple tastes?

ELIZABUD: Yeah, I have a bunch of different taste cells. You know? And each taste cell has a taste hair, and each hair picks up one of five tastes-- salty, sour, sweet, bitter, or umami.

TRISTAN: I always thought it was taste buds in different parts of the tongue that handled different tastes.

ELIZABUD: Nope. All of us taste buds sense all the tastes with the hairs on our different cells.

TRISTAN: I see. And then, how did you message the brain? Did you send a text message, or an email, or something?

ELIZABUD: You know how I live in a little canyon in the tongue. It's too small to see without a microscope. Next to my friends, Buddette and Budsy, we're all wired up to nerves that send signals to the brain. So we all send messages along those nerves.

TRISTAN: So fascinating. OK, Elizabud, almost done. Just got to dry your hair. And there, you're all ready for your next round of food particles. You look great.

ELIZABUD: You are so good at what you do. See you soon. Smooches.

TRISTAN: Bye. And that, Caitlin and Solomon is how I get all the inside info. Hi, welcome back. Long time no see.

GROUP: Brains On

MOLLY BLOOM: Order up. Coming in hot. Here's a heaping plate full of--


CHILD: (WHSIPERING) Mystery sound.

SOLOMON: Pretty much every time I listen to the mystery sound, I get it right.

MOLLY BLOOM: Nice. Well, let's see how you do today. We have a multi-part mystery sound for you. We're going to play you three different foods being eaten. So we know that it's a food being eaten. But I want you to guess what each food is. So here is mystery sound number one.


What food was being chomped on there?


CAITLIN: Yeah, chips.

MOLLY BLOOM: OK, pretty quick answer for chips. All right, let's hear mystery sound number two.


That was quiet one. What do you think that was?

CAITLIN: Definitely something softer, not as crunchy.

SOLOMON: Maybe a soft fruit or something?

CAITLIN: Cheese, maybe?

SOLOMON: Yeah, maybe cheese.

MOLLY BLOOM: Good guesses. All right, let's hear your mystery sound number three.


What is your guess?

SOLOMON: A dog eating dog food.


MOLLY BLOOM: I like that guess. Caitlin, what do you think?

CAITLIN: I have no clue. Sounded like crackers. Maybe a little softer than chips, but not soft-soft either.

MOLLY BLOOM: I like you're thinking. All right, well, we're going to be back to hear it again. You get another chance to guess, and then we'll hear the answers in just a bit.


OK, so we've talked about taste. Now, let's move on to smell and answer this question.

CHARLIE: My name is Charlie, and I'm from Kearney, Nebraska. And my question is, why don't you taste as well when you plug your nose?

CAITLIN: It's easy to see how smell and flavor are linked. You usually get a nose full of aroma before you bite down on something.

SOLOMON: Yeah. Sometimes, the smell is the best part of a meal.

MOLLY BLOOM: So is there a food that you think smells better than it actually tastes?

CAITLIN: Smells better than it taste? Bananas. Because the texture it's too stringy and mushy, but it smells like it would be really good.

MOLLY BLOOM: Very cool. Well, yeah, it's clear that smell is very important to flavor. If you listen to our series on the science of cooking.

CAITLIN: And you really should check it out if you haven't yet.

MOLLY BLOOM: Yes. You'll remember Molly Birnbaum from that series. She's the editor-in-chief of America's Test Kitchen Kids. Her life revolves around food and cooking, but there was a time when that seemed impossible.

MOLLY BIRNBAUM: So when I graduated from college, I wanted to be a chef. Unfortunately, I was jogging, and I was hit by a car. Part of what happened is, I fractured the back of my skull on the car windshield. And when that happened, my brain bounced within my skull. And on that bounce, it severed the olfactory neurons, which run from the nose to the brain.

They are these tiny delicate little neurons that sneak through the front of your skull, and it's what gives all of the signals from your nose to your brain. So after this accident, I healed slowly, but I realized soon after that I couldn't smell a thing. One of the most interesting things about flavor, I think, is not something that happens in your mouth. It's something that happens in your brain.

One day, I was at home with my mom in Boston, and I was helping her to cook. And I was chopping fresh Rosemary, the herb. All of a sudden, it just hit me, and I could smell this one smell. And scent is really connected to memory, which is also a reason why it is really powerful when it comes to eating and flavor. And so, for me, smelling Rosemary at that time, it was pretty magical.

But smell came back one scent at a time over the next few years for me. It was mainly good smells at first. But then, one day, I was living in New York, and it was summertime. And I could smell something new, and I didn't really know what it was. I was out on the sidewalk. And I looked around, and it was a big pile of trash bags, like rotting in the sun.

And it wasn't a great smell, but it was very exciting. I think it took about seven years total. During that time, I did a lot of research and reporting with scientists on exactly what was happening. So I did some training with my nose because scientists said that the best way to learn how to smell again was to practice.

You can train your nose pretty simply, actually. You can just spend some time with your spice cabinet. Open up all the different spices, and smell them one at a time, and really close your eyes and think hard about how they smell, which I recommend doing even if you can smell. It's a really interesting thing. We don't spend enough time specifically smelling things.

MOLLY BLOOM: So take a deep breath. What do you smell? Take a sniff of what you're eating and pick out the different scents. How would you describe them? Next time you hug a parent, think about how they smell. Open a book. Take a whiff. There are smells everywhere. And most of us don't appreciate how varied and wonderful they are, even the stinky ones.

OK. To demonstrate how important smell is to flavor, we have a little experiment. And you can try this at home, too. All you need is a blindfold and some jellybeans. So, OK, Caitlin and Solomon, yes, put on those blindfolds.

SOLOMON: I cannot see anything. I can't even find my way to the microphone. It's right here. Now, it's right here. Now, I found it. Found it.

MOLLY BLOOM: Great. Caitlin, are you blindfolded?


MOLLY BLOOM: All right. So now, I want you both to pinch your noses so that you can't smell anything. Remember to breathe through your mouth. Breathing is important. OK, now, we're going to give you a jelly bean. So pinch your nose at the front of your nose, so you sound like this.



MOLLY BLOOM: There you go. Pinch it real good. OK, and chew it, with your nose pinched so tight. And with your nose still pinched so tight, what does it taste like?

SOLOMON: Coconut.

CAITLIN: I don't know. I don't really taste coconut. I don't even know what this is.

MOLLY BLOOM: Now, go from pinched to unpinched, with the same jelly bean in your mouth, and tell me what you taste.

SOLOMON: Taste more like banana now.

CAITLIN: Oh, it's that one where it smells strong, almost like if you're brushing your teeth, and you smell the mint. I can't think of what it's called right now.

SOLOMON: Mine tastes more like banana now.

MOLLY BLOOM: Was it easier to taste the specific flavor once you had your nose open?


CAITLIN: Yes, because I could smell the aroma of it.

MOLLY BLOOM: Exactly. Yeah, because before you smell the aroma, it just generally sweet. Maybe you'd be like, it's fruity, maybe? But then, once you unpinch, and you get that aroma, your brain can say, oh, I know what flavor that is.


SPEAKER 3: Brains, brains, brains on.

MOLLY BLOOM: Coming up. Can music change how something tastes? We're going to do another delicious experiment.

SOLOMON: If you have any dark chocolate handy, grab it now and hold on to it, so you can play along.

CAITLIN: Keep listening.

MOLLY BLOOM: We're working on a series about myths, and we want to hear from you. Which mythological creature would you want to hang out with? Maybe you want to soar through the air with a griffin? Roast marshmallows with a dragon? Or play hide and go seek with Nessie. Whatever your answer, send it to us. Go to You have a question for us?

SOLOMON: Or a drawing you want to share or a mystery sound?

MOLLY BLOOM: Get in touch at That's how we got this great question.

LUCAS: Hi. My name is Lucas. I'm from Evans, Georgia. And I would like to know, what makes spicy food spicy?

SOLOMON: We'll have the answer at the end of the show.

MOLLY BLOOM: Plus, you'll hear the latest group to join the Brains Honor Roll.

SOLOMON: So keep listening.

MOLLY BLOOM: You're listening to Brains On. I'm Molly.

CAITLIN: I'm Caitlin.

SOLOMON: And I'm Solomon.

MOLLY BLOOM: And today, we are getting the full flavor by engaging all our senses. It's time to break out that dark chocolate we mentioned earlier.

SOLOMON: We're going to talk about how sound affects flavor. And to help us is Jack Bishop from America's Test Kitchen. Welcome, Jack.

JACK BISHOP: Hey, guys.

MOLLY BLOOM: Jack, you're going to be doing an experiment with us today. Can you tell us what the experiment is?

JACK BISHOP: Sure. We're going to see how sound impacts our perception of flavor. Believe it or not, what you're listening to can change the way something tastes.

MOLLY BLOOM: So I understand chocolate is involved, so we have our chocolate ready.

JACK BISHOP: So you guys should have two pieces of chocolate, and we're going to listen to two different pieces of music. So when we listen to the first piece of music, I want you to put the chocolate in your mouth. Let it melt a little bit. Sometimes, we want to rush ahead and chew it. Let it melt and really taste the chocolate, and think about how sweet it is.

And does it taste at all bitter? Bitter or the things that in leafy greens, or if you drink iced tea ever, those are the things that make our mouth pucker. And chocolate has some of those. So as you're listening to the music, think about how sweet it is and how bitter does that chocolate taste. All right, I think we're ready to taste the first sample. So let's listen to the music, and then let's taste one piece of the chocolate.




JACK BISHOP: All right, so tell me what'd you taste? Did you like the chocolate? Did the chocolate seem sweet to you? Did it seem at all bitter to you?

SOLOMON: It seemed really bitter to me because I don't really like chocolate that much.

JACK BISHOP: You don't like chocolate?

SOLOMON: Not really.

CAITLIN: I also don't really like dark chocolate, specifically, but it tasted better than what it usually did.

MOLLY BLOOM: Cool. So it tasted a little bit better than you usually think dark chocolate tastes.


JACK BISHOP: Are you guys ready to have another taste of chocolate and listen to a different piece of music this time?


JACK BISHOP: All right, let's play the music and taste some more chocolate.


All right, so that was a very different sound, very different kind of music. What did you think about the chocolate? How did it taste this time?

CAITLIN: It actually tasted sweet. Definitely a lot sweeter than the first time.


CAITLIN: It was really weird.

SOLOMON: Yeah. I guess sound does change the way stuff taste.

JACK BISHOP: It does. So you guys thought that when we listened to that last piece of music that the chocolate was sweeter, and it was less bitter?



JACK BISHOP: So most people who do this tasting, they think that when the first music, which was-- I don't know, how would you describe that first piece of music?

CAITLIN: Yeah, definitely happier it. It reminded me of wind chimes.

JACK BISHOP: Yeah. And so, usually, the first piece of music, when most people do it, they think the chocolate tastes sweeter. And that when they listen to the second piece of music, which has a lot of heavy instruments, and I think of it as lots of low sounds, they think that the chocolate tastes less sweet. Now, you guys, you seem to have a different impression.

Although, you definitely agreed that the music made you think about the chocolate differently. And I think that's the big point here is that if you're in a noisy restaurant, for instance, food tastes different than if you're at home, and it's really quiet. And this is real science, that you change the way things taste, depending on what's going on around you.

CAITLIN: So the way that they play music in restaurants, do you think they choose it based off of what type of food they're serving? Or is it more just a random choice?

JACK BISHOP: No, I think there's actually kind of an art to making a successful restaurant soundtrack. And one of the things that they found is that when it's really noisy, that all of those salty or umami-- it's what scientists use to describe savory things-- we perceive those much stronger in noisy environments.

SOLOMON: It's weird that it's more about your brain than about your mouth.

JACK BISHOP: Well, the brain is translates everything to us. I mean, yes, there are these receptors in our mouths or in our nose. But without the brain translating all of those little signals that are coming from your mouth or your nose, you wouldn't really know what it was. And that's why there's so many other things involved with flavor.

If you make something that you love, that you've had a lot, something that a grandparent or a parent makes that you love, and you walk in the house, and you smell it, suddenly, you're happy. And that's all happening in your brain because you haven't eaten anything. But I don't know. When I was a kid, when my mom was making chocolate chip cookies, and I came home from school, I was always in a much better mood immediately before I started eating things because all of that happiness was happening in my brain.

MOLLY BLOOM: That is so cool. Thank you so much, Jack, for making time to talk to us today and do this cool experiment with us.

JACK BISHOP: Thank you.

CAITLIN: Yeah, thank you.

SOLOMON: Thanks, Jack.

JACK BISHOP: Bye, everybody.

MOLLY BLOOM: All right, so you guys ready to hear those mystery chews again?


MOLLY BLOOM: OK, here's mystery chew number one.


Yeah. Last time, you guys were very certain that was a chip. You're sticking with chip?


MOLLY BLOOM: You are 100% correct. That was a chip.

CAITLIN: Wow. We got it right.

MOLLY BLOOM: Let's hear mystery sound number two.


Sorry to people who find that a gross noise. I apologize. What do you think that was being chewed?

SOLOMON: Still cheese,

CAITLIN: Yeah, I still think that's cheese.

MOLLY BLOOM: Well, you were very close. It is a dairy product, but it is yogurt. But it was very soft, so you're totally right that it's something softer and gloopier than a chip. One more chance. Chew number three.


SOLOMON: Still think that's a dog chewing dog food.

CAITLIN: I think it's a cracker.

SOLOMON: Fine. A cracker. Fine.

CAITLIN: You can stick with your idea.


MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah, you can stick with it. It's fine.


MOLLY BLOOM: OK. Well, we're going to cracker now. Well, the answer is, it's definitely something not as crispy as a chip, but that was a pickle.

CAITLIN: Pickles made crunching noises like that?



SOLOMON: Because they're cucumbers.


CAITLIN: That's a good point.

MOLLY BLOOM: That's a pickled cucumber. So they're not as crispy as they are when they're cucumbers, so a little softer and mushier, which is why that sound was a little bit not quite as crisp sounding as a potato chip.

SOLOMON: Makes sense.

MOLLY BLOOM: So now that what all those different foods were, texture really affects how we taste something, like a good crunch in a fruit or vegetable means that it's ripe and not mealy or soggy. So for us, a lot of us really like crispy and crunchy foods that tells us they're fresh. But for something like pudding, part of the fun is how mushy and soft it is. Crunchy pudding wouldn't be pudding at all.

Most people really like crunchy foods, and they don't really want like all crunchy or all gooey. It's really the combination of crispy and chewy, like a really good homemade mac and cheese that you bake in the oven with some crispy stuff on top. That's really good. OK, so we just talked about touch. We covered sound, and smell, and taste, and that leaves--

GROUP: Sight.

MOLLY BLOOM: Precisely. The look of a meal is really important and can make a big difference to the flavor of a meal.

SOLOMON: Yeah, I don't think I'd like mac and cheese quite as much if it were teal.

CAITLIN: And purple peanut butter would just be weird.

MOLLY BLOOM: Chefs and other foodies think a lot about how food looks, too, like Charles Michel, a chef and food scientist. In 2014, he led an experiment at Oxford University about plating. Plating is the word for the art of how you put food on a plate.

CHARLES MICHEL: We know that we eat with our eyes first. But in particular, we wanted to understand how the artistic arrangement of food ingredients on a plate can make us like, more or less, a certain plate of food. So the people who took part in the experiment were given one dish to eat, and it was either presented in a way that was just a simple salad, all the ingredients mixed up in the center of the plate as we would eat a normal salad.

SPEAKER 4: All right, a perfectly normal salad.

SPEAKER 5: Just like I make them at home.

CHARLES MICHEL: Or they were given a salad, where all the different elements, the sauces, the vinaigrette, all the different vegetables were placed side by side.

SPEAKER 5: OK, a little odd.

SPEAKER 4: But very organized.

CHARLES MICHEL: Or they were given the salad presented in a very beautiful, artistically-arranged way that was inspired by the famous Russian, French painter Kandinsky.

MOLLY BLOOM: This third salad was plated to look like a beautiful abstract painting. The brightly colored sauces looked like big bold brushstrokes, and the vegetables were arranged like an artsy collage.


SPEAKER 5: Gorgeous.

SPEAKER 4: Beautiful.

SPEAKER 5: A feast for the eyes.

CHARLES MICHEL: We wanted to see how that affected how much they enjoyed the food. We asked them questions before they tasted the food, and then we asked them similar questions after they had eaten the food. So the group of people that were given the salad that looked like a Kandinsky painting found the flavor of the foods to be much tastier.

SPEAKER 4: Beautiful and delicious.

SPEAKER 5: My compliments to the chef.

CHARLES MICHEL: And what was interesting is that people were also willing to pay much more for the salad. So the same salad, same ingredients, and we have better flavor, and something that is much more valuable. People were willing to pay twice as much for the salad that was more beautiful. The art and science of plating can really help us design foods that are approached in a much more mindful way. It can make us choose the healthier options. It can help us eat less and eat more mindfully. The way things are presented on the plate really change how we relate to the food.

SANDEN TOTTEN: Hey, Molly. Hey, Solomon and Caitlin. We sorted it all out.

SOLOMON: Sorted what out?

MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, you know, just an invention exploded and accidentally mixed up all the flavors in our laboratory/kitchen. Pretty normal stuff around here.

CAITLIN: Yeah, this all sounds very own brand for you all.

MENAKA WILHELM: Well, we did it. We got all the flavors back where they're supposed to be. Here, have a sip of your water.

SANDEN TOTTEN: We promise, it's not at all spicy.

MOLLY BLOOM: OK. Yeah, that it's just normal water. Good job.

MENAKA WILHELM: Thanks, Molly. Here, Solomon try this milk that doesn't taste anything like beef bouillon.

SOLOMON: Yup. Normal milk.

SANDEN TOTTEN: And Caitlin, try this totally not sardiney bread.

CAITLIN: Yeah, that's good normal bread.

MARC SANZHEZ: And Molly, taste a sponge. No hint of chocolate cake at all. It's just normal dish sponge. See?

MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah, I'm good.

CAITLIN: Flavor's so much more than taste. It involves all the senses.

SOLOMON: Like taste which starts when food particles hit little tiny hair-like parts of our taste buds.

MOLLY BLOOM: And smell, which really paints a full picture of what you're eating.

CAITLIN: Sound can affect flavor, too, and so can texture.

SOLOMON: And even sight plays a big role in making food taste even more delicious.

MOLLY BLOOM: That's it for this episode of Brains On. Brains On is produced by Menaka Wilhelm, Sanden Totten, Marc Sanchez, and me, Molly Bloom. We had production help from Elyssa Dudley, Christina Lopez, and Mary Harvin, and engineering help from Corey Chappell and Eric Romani. Special thanks to Quincy Sora Smith.

CAITLIN: Now, before we go, it's our moment of um.

SPEAKER 6: What makes spicy food spicy? Why does it feel weird in your mouth?

ARTHUR ZIMMERMAN: When we sense spiciness in our mouth, it's not actually our taste buds. It is the nerves that are reaching our tongue that then send direct signals back to our brain. Hi. My name is Arthur Zimmerman, and I study smell and taste. So whenever we bite into something that we think is spicy, there's actually the sensors on nerves that will interact with the food in our mouth.

Then, these receptors are similar to what you would have on your skin to detect different hotness. They're essentially temperature receptors. And so, these receptors are on these nerves. And so, it's actually the nerve itself that's picking up the heat sensation or cool sensation if you have things, such as menthol, which is in gum. When you chew gum, it feels cool.

And so, it activates a different set of these receptors. So when you bite into food, and you have all these food particles floating around in your mouth, specific particles interact with specific receptors. So if you can think about a basketball going into a hoop, it's got to be something that fits that receptor. And it just so happens that these heat receptors bind to these different molecules within chili peppers and horseradish that cause us to sense heat.

The heat that we feel from biting into these really hot peppers, for somebody who's never experienced this before, it's going to feel super hot. But for somebody who eats it all the time, it's not that the response is any different. It's still going to activate these receptors, but your brain tones down your perception of it because you get used to it over time.

MOLLY BLOOM: Reading these names is always a treat. It's the Brains Honor Roll. These are the kids who fuel our show with their delicious questions, ideas, mystery sounds, and drawings.


We'll be back soon with more answers to your questions.

CAILTIN AND SOLOMON: Thanks for listening.

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