I recently introduced my kids to the topic of our five basic senses. After doing an overview of the five senses, we are spending some time exploring each of the senses in more depth. Today I am sharing a sense of taste activity for kids.
Taste is a very important sense due to its role in helping us determine the flavors of foods and other substances. In fact, our ability to taste has historically been linked to our survival, as our sense of taste gives us an indication of whether a food is safe to eat or is likely to be poisonous.
In Montessori education, tasting bottles are commonly found in the sensorial area of the classroom. The typical presentation involves giving kids two sets of bottles with matching tastes. Children are then asked to taste the liquids in the bottles in order to match up the tastes from each set. I recently created some tasting bottles for my kids, although we used the bottles in a different way.
Note: For more activities and printables on each of the five senses, see my Five Senses Unit Study page.
The sense of taste, also called gustation, is possible due to taste receptor cells located on taste buds in our mouths. Most taste buds are on the tongue, but they are also found in other parts of the mouth. Humans have approximately 10,000 taste buds, each of which has between 50 and 150 receptor cells. However, children have about twice as many taste receptors as adults, which may account for why children are often much pickier eaters than adults.
There are five primary taste sensations:
(I will confess that I did not know what umami was and had to look it up. I learned that umami is the response to glutamic acid salts found in foods like MSG and processed meats and cheeses. Apparently it was discovered only recently, while sweet, salty, sour, and bitter have been known for quite some time. Because I was unfamiliar with umami – and because we did not have any MSG or processed meats or cheeses in our home – I did not include this taste in our activity.)
If you are looking for a good book to help explain the science behind taste to your kids, I recommend The Magic School Bus Explores the Senses by Joanna Cole.
However, the science in The Magic School Bus book was too advanced for my kids at this age. Instead, we read The Five Senses: Taste by Maria Rius, which uses very simple text.
We also read The Sense of Taste by Ellen Weiss, which provides more details than the Ruis book but was still simple enough for my preschool-age kids to enjoy.
I purchased a set of tasting bottles from Montessori Services (although Living Montessori Now has a great post on DIY tasting bottles and tasting activities.) The set I purchased included four bottles with white droppers and four bottles with black droppers. I used the tasting bottles as a springboard to do three different activities focused on taste with my kids.
Using tasting bottles to categorize the four main tastes
For the first activity, I prepared four bottles with four different tastes:
- Sweet (sugar water)
- Salty (salt water)
- Sour (lemon juice)
- Bitter (plain cocoa dissolved in water)
I began by laying out four cards labeled “sweet,” “salty,” “sour,” and “bitter.”
Next, I invited my kids to take turns tasting the liquid in each bottle to determine which of the four tastes was represented.
They suctioned up some of the liquid and dropped it in their mouths.
They were not fans of the bitter taste at all, but they both loved the sweet taste. XGirl, who is a bit of a salt fiend, also really liked the salty taste.
After tasting each bottle, they agreed on which flavor it represented and set it next to the appropriate label card.
Identifying foods for each of the four main tastes
After doing the tasting bottles, I asked them find foods in our kitchen representing each of the four main tastes. They did a really good job with this.
For sweet, they found honey, an apple, a mango, and a banana.
For sour, they found a lemon.
For salty, they found the salt and some salty pistachios.
For bitter, they found our unsweetened cocoa and some Brussels sprouts. (I’m not sure how bitter Brussels sprouts really are, but knowing that some vegetables taste bitter to kids it was the best one we could come up with in our kitchen at the time.)
Grading tastes by sweetness
For the last activity, I created four tasting bottles with different levels of sweetness by adding different amounts of sugar to the same amount of water. I labeled the bottom of the bottles 1 through 4 to show which had the least sugar and which had the most.
I invited the kids to taste the liquid in each bottle.
I then asked them to put the bottles in order from least sweet to most sweet.
The sweet water was a big hit with both kids, not surprisingly. In fact, all of our tasting activities went over quite well, the taste of the bitter water not withstanding.
So, which of these sense of taste activity for kids was your favorite? Let me know in the comments?
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