Just a few weeks into 2020, a lot has happened. The impeachment trial began, a deadly virus broke out in China and spread to the US.
And TikTok users have started dipping their testicles in soy sauce “for science.”
The trend is based on a misinterpretation of a study published in 2013 in the scientific journal PNAS that found male testes have taste receptors.
Taste receptors are not the same as tastebuds. The study did not find that people can taste through their testes.
The soy sauce challenge went viral after TikTok user Regan posted a video on the study on Jan. 15, asking people with testicles to dip their genitals in soy sauce “for science” to see if they could taste anything through their genitals.
While tastebuds are located on the tongue, taste receptors can exist throughout the body
The initial study found that taste receptors are located all over the body, including in the anus and testicles. Lead researcher Bedrick Mosigner of the Monell Chemical Senses Center told Business Insider in 2013 that while it’s known that these taste receptors exist, it isn’t clear what purpose they serve.
“For the most part, though, full function of these extra-orally located taste receptors is unknown,” Monsignor wrote.
What is clear is that these taste receptors cannot actually taste anything.
“The distinction here is that testicles don’t have tastebuds (clusters of taste receptor cells) and they can’t taste soy sauce,” ScienceAlert managing editor Signe Dean wrote.
While taste receptors can chemically detect tastes like savory, sweet, and umami, they do not experience flavors in the same way as tastebuds, which are solely located on the tongue.
Experts say that you absolutely cannot ‘taste’ through your testicles
Alx James, a Tik Tok user who posted a response video to the challenge, claimed that he could taste something after dabbing soy sauce on his testicles.
“I can taste the salt!” he said after a series of screams.
Disgruntled scientists and science writers have taken to Twitter to voice their thoughts on the actual science behind the TikTok trend.
—Signe Dean (@nevertoocurious) January 22, 2020
“These are not taste buds, they don’t activate the gustatory cortex in the brain,” Emma Beckett, a food and nutrition scientist from The University of Newcastle in Australia, told ScienceAlert.