The Worst Class I Ever Taught
Early in my career I taught a lecture on taste chemistry in my undergraduate food chemistry class. Taste and flavor are hard topics to teach. You either get into the chemistry of the flavor molecules, which turns into a laundry list of structures or the physiology and psychology of taste which isn’t really about food anymore. It was late in the semester and I was looking for something a little more fun and from somewhere I remembered the “tongue map” of tastes. The ideas is the different tastes are most clearly detected in different parts of the tongue, sweet at the front, bitter at the back and so on. This looked good so I copied a picture of the tongue and brought some candies to serve as model stimulants. I quickly got the students with their tongues out prodding around and rediscovering what I had shown from the book. Everyone had fun and we learned a lot. Epic win.
Except it was all complete and utter nonsense. There is no such thing as a tongue map; you can taste pretty much anything pretty much anywhere in your mouth. I accepted what I read in a book and the students accepted what I told them. No one, not even me, believed our own senses over the authority of the expert. I’m still embarrassed by my mistake, but in some ways I learned more from it than anything else I did that semester.