Rebecca Stead's good taste

Rebecca Stead’s latest book, Liar & Spy, features an entertaining (and educational!) subplot about the sense of taste. Main character Georges’ science class participates in a taste-test experiment that Rebecca, while reminiscing with me for a Talks With Roger interview, remembers from her own school days:

Roger: Is that a real thing, that taste test?

Rebecca: Yes, I did that.

Roger: And what kind were you?

Rebecca: I was a non-taster. The myth from the book [of non-tasters being soul mates] didn’t come from real life. But I think maybe the reason I came up with that idea is that we all put these pieces of paper in our mouths, and everybody really did make all these retching noises and ran for the water fountain, and I was one of two people in the class who didn’t taste anything but, you know, paper. And the other person was a kid I had sort of a crush on.

Roger: Ooh.

Rebecca: And so at the time I thought, “What does it mean that Tomas and I don’t taste this?” As it turned out, it actually didn’t mean anything.

Roger: He’s not the father of your children, then?

Rebecca: No. Although, I think, had we had children, they would probably not have been able to taste that chemical either.

I also asked Rebecca about her favorite tastes. Here are the results:

Sweet: Caramel (preferably mail-ordered from a place in Montana)
Salty: Olives (any kind)
Bitter: Espresso
Sour: My father-in-law’s whiskey sours
Umami: Parmesan (by the hunk)

Then Rebecca turned the tables to find out mine:

Sweet: Spice drops
Salty: My homemade Chex mix
Bitter: Irish black tea
Sour: I put lemon on or in anything I can
Umami: Paprika

Anyone else want to share? And did anyone else do this taste test in school?

Alice Hoffman About Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman is the author of more than thirty best-selling titles for adults, including Practical Magic and The Museum of Extraordinary Things. Her latest novel for children is Nightbird (Lamb/Random), reviewed in this issue.


  1. I had forgotten about those taste strips, but, yes, we definitely did them. I can’t remember what I was, so I imagine I mustn’t have been one of the no-tasters.

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