Monday, November 18, 2013

Education of the Senses: Tasting Bottles

One of the most fun works to present to small children is the Tasting Bottles!  Like many of the other Sensorial works, this is a matching work.  First I explained that we have 5 senses, one of which is the sense of taste (for parents and teachers:  the gustatory sense).  To keep things simple I brought up the 4 basic tastes of salty, bitter, sweet and sour.  There's actually a fifth one called umami, which is a savory taste.  As with most of my presentations, I did this one by the seat of my pants. Here's a write-up in detail if you're interested in nitty-gritties of how to do this work the "real way."

Kept them on ice because there's chocolate milk in there.
I bought 6 small glass bottles at The Container Store recently and made small dots on the bottom with nail polish.  These served as the control of error:  if the bottles had the same color dots, they matched.  This morning I filled two bottles with pickle juice, two bottles with chocolate milk, and two bottles with black coffee.  If you want an example of all four types of tastes just buy yourself two more bottles (I think I was feeling cheap on the day I got these....).

Warning:  I tried this with my own children first and both the very salty and the very vinegar-y liquids can cause some children to gag.   That's why I kept things VERY simple this morning.

Once again, Sam's club supplies for ginormous family reunions come in handy:  only 599 plastic spoons to go.
I gave each child a plastic spoon and presented this to the group.  We started by giving each person a drop of the liquid from one tasting bottle, and then we asked them if the next bottle's taste matched.  Of course we checked to make sure that second and third bottles didn't match the first, so then it's more interesting when, on the 4th go around, the liquid matches the original.

Technically I should have given a taste of the original bottle in between rounds of taste testing (saying, "Remember, this is the taste that we want to match."), but I was keeping things brisk enough to maintain interest and they didn't need the reminding.  These samples were dramatically different from each other.

Later, "Alleluia" wanted to keep coming back for more samples of chocolate milk!
We checked the bottoms of the bottles to make sure the liquids truly matched.
You don't need to identify what liquids are in the jars, but it's normal for children to want to know or to want to tell you what they think it is.  

This is about the 4th time I've used these jars, and each time I've disinfected them thoroughly, boiling the eye dropper tops and cleaning the bottles well.  I'm not sure how long the rubber will last, but so far the bottles have been well worth the cost.

What liquids would you include?  What ideas do you have for umami?  Thanks for  your input!


  1. I have heard that soy sauce, mushrooms, and tomato paste give natural umami to dishes (according to Cooks Illustrated), but I'm not sure if the salt would overwhelm the soy in a tasting experiment.


  2. Thanks! I'll give it a try (sounds yummy!).