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Little Labs: Taste Test!


When you eat a delicious cinnamon roll, apple, or piece of garlic bread, you probably thank your tongue for letting you enjoy these delicious flavors. Though the tongue deserves some credit, it’s another part of our body we should thank for experiencing delicious foods: our nose! How much so? Let’s find out using vanilla!


  • Real or imitation vanilla extract
  • Stirring stick (or eyedropper or something similar)
  • A willing friend! (You can do it by yourself, but it’s more fun with someone else, and more scientific!)

Don’t tell your friend what’s coming! This will help them to stay unbiased.


  1. hold your nose for the experiment!Before you start, tell your buddy to close their eyes, plug their nose, and stick out their tongue. This will take some trust! Tell them they’re not allowed to open their eyes or their nose until you say so.
  2. Take a stirring stick and dunk it in the bottle of vanilla extract. Then place one or two drops on your friend’s tongue.
  3. Ask them what they think they're tasting. Did they scrunch up their face in mild disgust?
  4. Now let them unplug their nose, and give them another taste.

    Did they immediately recognize the vanilla? Why?


Your tongue can only tell if something is sour, sweet, salty, or bitter. Groups of tastebuds arranged separately are in charge of recognizing these variations. However, ‘flavor’ is something else entirely.

Vanilla extract is usually made up of 25% - 35% alcohol, which is what your friend was tasting. When your friend unplugged their nose, they allowed that odorific air from their mouth up into their olfactory receptors in their nose, which is what recognizes the flavor we associate with vanilla.

Your nose is responsible for 75% of the flavors you think you are ‘tasting’. Tasting without smelling is a lot like looking at a rainbow in black and white!

For example, sometimes when people have an accident and experience head trauma, they lose their sense of smell. These folks say that food has lost its taste, when actually they can still taste foods (know if it’s salty, sweet, bitter, or sour) but it’s the aroma that’s been lost!


fruit to experiment withTry it the same experiment with other things!

  • A slice of apple vs a slice of potato
  • A lemon peel vs an orange peel
  • Garlic vs onion

Some things you don’t have to actually put in your mouth, but you could breathe in with your nose plugged:

  • Cedar wood vs pine
  • Perfume-soaked cotton ball vs alcohol-soaked cotton ball
  • Roses vs irises (or any other flowers)


What’s the difference between real and imitation vanilla extract?

real vanillaReal extract - comes from vanilla bean pods soaked in alcohol (min 35%) to extract the flavor of the bean. This flavor mainly comes from a compound called vanillin, but also from tons of other aromatic compounds as well, giving foodies that ‘nuanced’ taste they go gah-gah over.

Imitation extract – uses the same compound vanillin, but makers get it from clove oil, pine sap and even wood pulp, which are much cheaper to come by. Then they mix it with alcohol and some other things. Therefore, you get the base taste of vanilla, without the fancy extra aromatic compounds.

However, both the extra aromatic compounds and alcohol burn off in heat! So if you are baking cookies or cooking, imitation vanilla will taste just as good as the real stuff.

However, if your treat stays cold, like a pudding, the expensive vanilla might be worth it.


Let us know what you did. Share your photos and results with us on Facebook, Twitter, or send us an email to We love getting your messages!

For more exciting chemistry experiments, check out our Foundation Chemistry Kit at

Chelsea Schuyler
Chelsea Schuyler