11 Jan 2009

Very easy odour adaptation experiment

Matmolekyler published last month an incredibly easy and straightforward experiment for illustrating the phenomenon of odour adaptation.

Adaptation is the phenomenon in which you stop noticing an odour/aroma when you've been subjected to it for a while. This is, amongst other, used as a motive for varying aroma components throughout a meal. Have a look at "Jullovsexperiment: Hacka ditt luktsinne" (Google translated version: "Christmas holiday experiment: Hack your sense of smell"). In this case, Malin Sandström, proposes to use coffee and cinnamon.

I'm on constant search for experiments that give personal experiences with food and science. In my eyes, the sheer ease of this experiment is maybe the greatest advantage, making it very acessable for anyone wanting to experiment with these phenomena.

Heston Blumenthal and Peter Barham have also described this in one of their Kitchen Chemistry episodes (Discovery channel):

"Our brains, it seems, respond much more to changes in which molecules are in the nose and mouth than they do to what is actually there, for example - if you chew a piece of gum, the flavour will disappear after a few minutes, as your brain gets "bored" by the aroma in the nose - but there is virtually no reduction in the amount of flavour molecules in the nose. However, if you simply change the input from your tongue, by, for example - taking a sip of sweetened water - the full flavour will be instantly restored"

Peter Barham (Discovery Channel)

What to teach/learn
  • Gain experience with aroma and sense of smell
  • Experience the phenomenon of adaptation
  • (Experience that flavour experience is both taste and aroma)

I tested the experiment with our students and it worked perfectly! The student with the cinnamon even commented: "the odour fades away while I'm smelling it". Great fun. A colleague has been doing this experiment for several years using (synthetic) almond and rum essences. However, the intensities of these are somewhat uneven, and one swamps the other. Coffee and cinnamon works perfectly :)

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