lt started innocently enough. Late last week, TikTok user cryinginthecar logged onto the popular video app and shared an eyebrow-raising scientific finding with her followers.
“Did y’all know that if a dude puts his balls in something, he can taste it? He can taste it!” she asked, showing a screenshot of a 2013 Daily Mail article that seemingly proved as much.
“If you have testicles please dip your balls in something, it’s for science and I must know,” said cryinginthecar, whose name is actually Regan.
Naturally, guys on TikTok, an app embraced by the Gen Z set, were up for the challenge.
Alx James ― who has more than 1 million followers on the app ― was one of the first people to claim they’d given their testicles the soy sauce treatment. Appearing to do a quick dab while parked in his car, James claimed that he had indeed tasted something.
“Stop. Hold on now, oh my God, I can taste the salt!” James shouted. “That’s ridiculous.”
Hold on now indeed. While the soy sauce challenge has plenty of guys claiming they’ve “tasted” something, testicles do not have taste buds. Sorry, everyone. (However, big congrats to Kikkoman and other soy sauce producers! This could be a boon for their sales.)
The actual study, which was published in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction in 2013, found that male testes do indeed have taste receptors. These receptors can also be found in the “digestive system, respiratory system, brain and spermatozoa.”
But taste receptors aren’t the same thing as taste buds. In other words, your testicles can’t taste a damn thing, said Emma Beckett, a food and nutrition scientist who works at the University of Newcastle in Australia.
“I’ve weighed in on all kinds of fad diets and I’ve been asked lots of very interesting questions about my research and food in general, but it never crossed my mind that one day, I would have to explain to people that taste is not a reason to dip your testicles in food,” Beckett told HuffPost. (The researcher also posted a pretty helpful thread on Twitter demystifying the study.)
“I never thought I would have to explain that the taste receptors in the testes do not connect to the taste centre in the brain,” Beckett said in an email. “They’re called the gustatory cortex, if you want the proper term!”
As the site IFLScience pointed out, attempting this challenge “would be like trying to taste soy sauce by dabbing it on the outside of your cheek.” Pretty futile.
And to be quite honest, you probably wouldn’t want your testicles to have a sense of taste, said Aaron Spitz, a urologist and author of “The Penis Book: A Doctor’s Complete Guide to the Penis.”
“I’ve seen guys’ balls covered in pretty nasty stuff ― things like fungal infections ― and their owners don’t have a bad taste in their mouth,” he told HuffPost. “Not to mention, all the awake vasectomies I perform without my patients complaining of tasting soap from the surgical scrub ― nor a burnt flavor when I sear their tubes with cautery.” (Ick.)
OK, but why do testicles even have taste receptors?
The study’s actual findings beget more questions. For starters, why in the world do testicles need taste receptors anyway?
Apparently, the receptors function inside the balls to sweet and savory tastes like and umami that are important in identifying and compounding proteins in sperm production.
“There’s a tricky little difference between taste receptors on the tongue and those in the testicle: the tongue responds to tastes and we decide whether food is edible,” explained Paul Turek, a urologist who runs the Turek Clinic in Los Angeles and San Francisco and is not affiliated with the study. “The testicle responds to ‘tastes’ as ‘chemical’ substances to decide whether to make more or less sperm and testosterone.”
That’s just another thing the testicles are responsible for, Turek said. Apparently, they’re quite the little multitaskers.
“It may have just been my senses becoming heightened due to the fact I was putting my balls in an unfamiliar place.”
“Remember the testicle is an incredibly active factory making 1,000 sperm every heartbeat. The testicle’s job is to protect and nurture sperm production at all costs,” Turek said. “They have to monitor exposures such as substances to keep things safe and running.”
Why did so many guys report “tasting” something?
Did those who claimed they tasted soy sauce experience something like a placebo effect? Were they just overly optimistic? To answer that question, we went straight to the source: a dude who dipped his balls in soy sauce.
“It may have just been my senses becoming heightened due to the fact I was putting my balls in an unfamiliar place, but I did feel a strange sensation as soon as they touched the sauce,” said Stuy Lewis, a real estate agent and TikTok user, describing his original response. “It was different than normal tasting but I could absolutely tell I was sensing something with my balls. My body could tell it was soy sauce.”
Now, after digging into the study’s findings a little more, Lewis is pretty sure it was probably just sensory overload. (Sticking your genitals in cold condiments will do that to you.)
“The smell alone may have tricked me into thinking I could taste it and I think the temperature change on my ball skin may have been a confounding variable as well,” he said.
Whatever the case, Lewis is glad to have learned a little bit more about what goes down down there. The testicles are pretty impressive in the role they play. And the experts we spoke to were happy to provide a little online sex education to people intrigued by the social media experiment.
Moral of this incredibly weird, incredibly viral story? Dip your testicles in salty, cold substances all you want, but don’t expect the little guys to do even more heavy lifting and actually taste something.
“There might be a subset of people who use any excuse to dip their balls in something weird,” said Beckett, the food and nutrition scientist. “I’m not going to kink or dip shame, but don’t do this in the name of taste receptor science!”