Green Eggs and Ham, Don’t Let it Waste: What Doctor Seuss Knew About the Science of Taste

By Kyle Hill | November 12, 2013 10:30 am

It’s ok Sam-I-Am, I know why you didn’t want to try green eggs and ham.

You didn’t want to try it on a train or up a tree, because what we taste is influenced by what we see.

Now, taste certainly involves the tongue, that’s one of the first things we learn when we are young.

But all your senses help you dine, and a great example is the “taste” of wine.

Wine experts will surely say that taste is a must, they have spent years refining palates that are robust.

But give them a white wine that has been dyed red, and they will have no idea it is white in their head.

Wine sensors aren’t the only perceptions loose, sight also affects the “taste” of juice.

Give two groups identical juice, differently colored, and one group will tell you their taste buds have been smothered.

And you may even think that you taste something small, when in fact your tongue detects almost nothing at all.

When your water “tastes like iron” you may like it or not, but you have no “iron taste buds”, not in any spot.

Instead it’s your nose pulling the slack, being the sensors your tongue seems to lack.

In fact, when you have a cold and your nose is stuffed, things start to taste like iron because your sense of smell has been snuffed.

So you see, can’t you tell? What you taste is actually your tongue, what we see, and what we smell.

We are late to the game on how the brain perceives, so it’s time to get it straight, time to roll up our sleeves.

Marketers know that sight changes taste, it has let them know what we will waste.

Think of Pepsi, a soda we hold dear, and what happened when they turned the soda clear.

Times were good, times were light, until people realized the soda didn’t “taste” quite right.

Sales plummeted as consumers stopped buying, and marketers knew there was no use in trying.

Taste is a complicated perception, I will contend, and for Sam-I-Am I will defend.

Think of a steak, sizzling with heat, doesn’t that sound like something you’d want to eat?

Stop right there! This steak looks rather mean. Yes! That’s right! This steak is green!

How many stomachs turn at even the thought, thinking about a green steak that should have never been bought?

You certainly wouldn’t choose it from a cafeteria; we are accustomed to refuse things than look riddled with bacteria.

If you can imagine what color does to taste, this little scam, you will know that the same is true for green eggs and ham.

Dr. Seuss, I thank you, I must. For giving information about taste perception I can trust.

I love scientifically accurate stories, especially about Sam…I probably wouldn’t want to try green eggs and ham!

Image Credit:

Green Eggs and Ham by AdolfGalland

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It has been said that you should try to make a problem as simple as possible, but not simpler. Here, that problem is finding the real science behind pop culture. But Not Simpler is a place where you can ask the questions you thought were too nerdy for real answers. The physics of video games? Sure! The chemistry of dragon breath? Why not? When you can find the realities behind your favorite fiction, and seriously nerd-out in the process, everyone wins. Simple.

About Kyle Hill

Kyle Hill is a science writer and communicator who specializes in finding the secret science in your favorite fandom. His work has appeared in Wired, The Boston Globe, Scientific American, Popular Science, Slate, and more. He is a TV correspondent for Al Jazeera America's science and technology show TechKnow and a columnist for Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Find his stream of nerdery on Twitter: @Sci_Phile Email him at sciencebasedlife [at] gmail [dot] com.

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