As the CDC has suggested to steer clear of loved ones this Thanksgiving, it’s understandable to feel the need to spruce things up a bit. If nothing else, you’ll want to make Thursday’s menu different from all the other lonely quarantine meals you’ve sucked down over the last eight months. To that end, you could make porchetta, spike the gravy, or better yet, see if it’s possible to taste your Turkey Day spread with your balls.
Yes, your balls (as in your testicles — to get all scientific about it).
For those who might not remember, 2020 actually started out on a pretty good note when a viral TikTok video forced scientists to answer the question: Do testicles have taste buds? The video in question referenced a Daily Mail article titled “Testicles Have Taste Buds That Can Detect Sweet Flavours — And They’re Vital for Fertility,” which was a wild takeaway from the original study its drawn from, “Genetic Loss or Pharmacological Blockade of Testes-Expressed Taste Genes Causes Male Sterility.” Moreover, despite the study being on reproductive proteins in mice, the Daily Mail concluded that “taste receptors on the testicles and anus can also detect the savory taste of umami — the amino acid in soy sauce.”
After the original TikTok had people across this great land of ours dipping their testicles in soy sauce, fact-checkers came in and poured cold water all over the whole thing, causing great shrinkage to the theory. “Taste buds are in our mouths and upper esophagus only,” Emma Beckett, a food and nutrition scientist from the University of Newcastle in Australia told ScienceAlert. “The signals from the taste buds are sent from the mouth to the brain so that we can consciously perceive tastes.”
In other words, no, you do not have taste buds on your testicles. However, your balls are adorned with taste receptors. Don’t get your hopes up too much, though — they’re very different from taste buds, and they’re found all over (and inside) the body. “They’re like any other receptor in the body that’s monitoring the environment,” Beckett continued. “They’re detecting the same molecules as in the mouth, but triggering different responses, [such as] infections, as bacteria have sweet structural compounds and secrete bitter and sour things as waste.” For instance, there are taste receptors in the lungs and nose, and “there is evidence that they’re involved in regulating inflammatory responses.”
Not to mention, these taste receptors exist on the testicles, not the scrotum. “So what these dippers are doing would be like trying to taste soy sauce by dabbing it on the outside of your cheek,” writes James Felton for IFL Science, adding that “nobody seems to notice that these receptors are also found in the anus, and yet you don’t walk around tasting shit in your mouth the whole time.”
Still, I figured why not see for myself? Like everyone else, my Thanksgiving definitely could use some excitement — same for my endless quarantine nights. Besides, I’d argue that my balls certainly communicate a sense of burning upon coming into contact with IcyHot (me: 1; science: 0). Plus, if sensory receptors are down there, “sensing chemical changes in the environment,” who am I to say that the TikTokers are only smelling the soy sauce through their nose and not tasting it via their balls? (Again, knowing full well that I’m completely dismissing all the established facts on the matter — which is also a very 2020 vibe.)
And so, I plugged my nose, donned a blindfold and testied the theory myself (see what I did there?).
I more or less used the same tastes as those in the TikToks — soy sauce for “umami,” orange juice for “sour” and cranberry sauce for “sweet” and “Thanksgiving.” I also added a “control” bowl of water, because while my testicles may not be able to taste the difference between soy sauce and water, I had confidence that they could ascertain viscosity (i.e., what’s a liquid and what’s cranberry sauce). My lab partner (in Borat voice — my wife) placed a randomly selected bowl upon a stool of constant height, which I carefully dipped my balls in (getting in a few good squats in the process).
Unfortunately, though, I could only tell the temperature of the contents — cold (very, very cold). As such — and lacking any input to the gustatory cortex of my brain — I’m confident in making the deduction that testicles are unable to taste or smell. Or in terms better suited for the season at hand, your brain will not light up with wondrous tastes of home when placing your testicles into an otherwise nice Thanksgiving meal. You will only feel failure and shame — and be left with shriveled, sticky balls.