Men across the nation have gone viral (again) for dipping their testicles in food — mostly soy sauce. Some social media stars claim they can taste the salty, umami flavor with their balls. Others say they get nothing out of it. Wait, what?
Let’s first get this out of the way: You can’t taste things with your testicles. (Sorry everyone). But — shockingly — the viral trend does have a basis in truth. Testicles do, in fact, have taste receptors. The thing is, according to a 2013 study, the taste receptors in testicles aren’t the same as those in our mouths.
“There’s a tricky little difference between taste receptors on the tongue and those in the testicle,” urologist Paul Turek told the Huffington Post. “The tongue responds to tastes and we decide whether food is edible. The testicle responds to ‘tastes’ as ‘chemical’ substances to decide whether to make more or less sperm and testosterone.”
Taste buds, which are found in the mouth and upper esophagus, are clusters of sensory cells with hair-like projections and thousands of taste receptors. The receptors send signals over nerves to the brain, and the brain translates the signals into flavors. Without the brain doing that translating, you don’t actually taste sweet, bitter, sour, salty, or umami flavors. So although the testicles do contain taste receptors, they don’t lead to taste because they’re not connected to the brain. Besides, as far as scientists know, the taste receptors are on the inside of the testicles. Unless you inject them with soy sauce, this viral challenge wouldn’t work. (Editor’s Note: Please don’t inject your testicles with soy sauce).
Knowing that testicles have taste receptors, the next obvious question is why? “You can just think of them like any other receptor in the body that is monitoring the environment,” Emma Beckett, a molecular nutritionist at the University of Newcastle in Australia, told ScienceAlert. Taste receptors can be found throughout the body, such as in the digestive and respiratory tracts. “They might detect infections, as bacteria have sweet structural compounds and secrete bitter and sour things as waste. In the lungs and nose, there is evidence that they are involved in regulating inflammatory responses.” Those in the testicles help with sperm production, and mice that are genetically altered to not have two types of taste receptors are infertile.
Of course, the nuances of the above were lost to some laymen. The first offense was a Daily Mail article from 2013 on the study that came out that same year identifying that testicles have taste receptors. The tabloid incorrectly claimed: “Scientists say that, despite being a long way from the mouth, taste receptors on the testicles and anus can also detect the savory taste of umami — the amino acid in soy sauce.” Not so much.
In 2020, a female TikTok user found that article and challenged those with the relevant appendages to try it out. Men across the app were glad to dip their balls in soy sauce in the name of science. The trend quickly went viral, and some health nuts tried other foods, such as strawberries. Many men claimed they could taste through their testes, possibly because of the shock of the sensation, temperature change, and smell in the air.
“Honestly, never thought I’d have to say, trust me, I have a PhD you can’t enjoy the taste of food with your testicles,” Beckett tweeted in response to the viral trend. “Dip your balls in things if that’s your jam, but please not for the taste receptor activation.”