In the first of our multi-part series on the senses, Kevin, Toren, and Joe look at umami, Scoville Heat Units and the world’s hottest peppers, Burning Mouth Syndrome, supertasters, plus the effect of vision on taste and the weirdness that is phenylthiocarbamide!

Music: “If I Knew You Were Comin’ Id’ve Baked A Cake” by Eileen Barton



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  • Andreas

    Somewhat lighter on the caustic aspects but with a lot of information to “compensate”. Sensation and perception are fascinating subjects (if a little hard to grasp at times) so the funny take on them is nice.

    If the layout of this episode is indicative of the coming episodes in the series are there any plans to invite a guest-spert (Dr. Rob?) to weigh in on science side of things? 🙂

    • Tim Blumer

      Everything is better with a dash of Dr. Rob.

  • Allan Newell

    Great episode–as always! That tongue is an image I will take with me to the grave.

  • Jo

    Have you guys heard of Grant Achatz? He’s a chef in Chicago (has the best restaurant in the country) who had cancer in his mouth and he discusses how he lost his sense of taste and eventually gained it back. Very interesting article about taste from the perspective of a chef as well as his doctors.

  • Joel Hacker

    You guys totally should’ve done a pepper eating test much like the drinking for the Alcohol episode.

  • skepticssa

    In honor of the first episode (and my birthday) I decided to taste the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion chili I managed to grow. My comments from FB:

    ” It was a bit like when someone spikes your drink with GBH, with bonus excruciating agony. Pretty much collapsed, retching a minute after I ate the 2nd piece. Pain level similar to kidney stones. I wasn’t coughing up blood so that was a win but my body mutineered and went into shock I think.I was thinking at what point in time does one call an ambulance and why can’t I find my pulse anymore? Back to being alive after 20 minutes. Evidently this chilli plant does not want bugs or anything living to eat it seed pods, which I guess if fair enough if you’re a plant in the tropics. I still like Chili.”
    Comment from the wife:
    “Dramatic way to put quick end to nice family dinner. I told him not to do it but would he listen – oh no course not. Wasn’t such a happy camper for a while there. Hospital trip was looking likely but just got away with it. Wouldn’t recommend any sane person to do it.”

    The odd thing wasn’t the excruciating pain in the mouth, that was to be expected, it was the effect it had on my brain and the overall general collapse and non-working body that was surprising. It was literally incapacitating.

    I will neither confirm nor deny my sanity.

    • Toren

      Did you eat an entire chili?

      • skepticssa

        I had a sliver at first and that was blindingly hot but only in the mouth. Then I ate about 1/8th of one. I still have one picked, one on the bush and the remains of the first in water creating some sort of watery death liquid.

  • Brenton

    I forget the terms that were used in the episode about distorting tastes (disguisa? desguisa?), but there’s an interesting short-term condition people get from eating pine nuts:

    After eating bad pine nuts, people experience a bitter and/or metallic taste when they eat or drink anything for weeks. My wife and I both experienced this, and it is very annoying.

  • MissFelis

    Joe was exactly right about the transparent fish being useful for science. I used to work with zebrafish- we grew zebrafish eggs in PTC water Transparent fish are great for developmental studies. For example, if you think a gene is important for heart development, you can engineer a fish without that gene and observe what their hearts look like as they develop. You can also generate transgenic fish that express a florescent protein such as green florescent protein in specific tissues, such as the liver, and treat the fish with different chemicals to see what effect those chemicals have on the liver. Zebrafish embryos actually start out transparent, but as the fish grows older, they start to develop melanin, which prevents you from seeing through them. We used PTC to delay the development of melanin so that we could see into the fish at later time points.

  • Ryan

    My brother made some salsa that was utterly inedible. He began with a base of jalapeños and habeneros, but found found this to be too bland. Therefore he added a hellish blend to spice it up. I don’t recall which were actual peppers and which were extracts, but I know he used ghost pepper and moruga scorpion as well as an extreme hot sauce. He took it to an event along with two large bags of chips. By the end of the night the chips were gone but the salsa was barely touched. One person went to the ER because of the salsa (so my brother claims). I received a bowl of the salsa and tried a small amount and found it to be tolerable only extremely small quantities. I offered some to a Mexican friend of mine that brags about his tolerance for hot foods. Despite my warning, he quickly ate several chips with heaping piles of the fiendish sauce. He tried to play it off, but after about 30 seconds he was beginning to sweat and tear up. I had to give him several glasses of milk and three yogurt cups as well as a few slices of bread to bring the burning down. I don’t know where the salsa would fall on the Scovil scale, but considering it had two of the recent “hottest peppers in the world,” I’d say it would likely be pretty high up there. My brother made a couple quarts of the stuff, and as far as I know he threw away about 90% of it.