TV Shows & Podcasts

Proof, Episode 4 Recap: Beanboozled, Part 1

Do you have to taste dirty socks to know what they taste like?

Published Nov. 22, 2018.

In Proof, the new podcast from America's Test Kitchen, we aim to solve food mysteries one story at a time. Every episode goes beyond recipes and cooking to investigate the foods we love (such as deep-fried oreos and tiki drinks) and don't love (like once-in-vogue celery and the meteoric rise of the grain bowl); ask the big questions (where do food cravings come from?); and uncover the hidden backstories that feed your food-obsessed brain.


Even if you’ve never tasted the smelly socks or dead fish jelly beans from Jelly Belly that were inspired by the Harry Potter series, you’ve probably heard of them. In the fourth episode of Proof, we use these nice-looking, terrible-tasting candies to guide us through the science of flavor, helping us answer the all-important question: Do you have to have tasted dirty socks to know what they taste like?

Episode Four: Beanboozled, Part 1

An investigation into artificial flavors, using the dirty sock jelly bean as our guide.
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Four Things You'll Learn

1. Having a Sensitive Palate Can Be a Curse: Like when you’re asked to taste a bunch of bad-tasting jelly beans in the name of research, as a group of America’s Test Kitchen test cooks was.

2. The Difference Between Taste and Flavor: Receptors on your tongue register taste, and flavor is closely linked to your nose—this is why you don’t need to have eaten a smelly sock to know what one tastes like.

3. The Hazards of Developing Jelly Bean Flavors: Whether it’s going home still smelling like the aroma of dirty socks or being told your pizza flavor tastes more like vomit, the job isn’t all about eating your favorite fruit-flavored candy.

4. What a Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer Is: And what this machine—which is used to analyze dinosaur remains and search for life on Mars—has to do with dissecting a jelly bean’s flavor.

Who You'll Hear From

Here’s who helped us get to the bottom of how food is flavored.

  • Bridget Lancaster: Host and producer
  • Sara Joyner: Proof producer and smelly sock jelly bean obsessive
  • “Chris”: a customer service representative at Jelly Belly
  • A group of America’s Test Kitchen test cooks: unlucky guinea pigs in an impromptu Beanboozled jelly bean tasting
  • Jack Bishop: America’s Test Kitchen’s resident tasting expert
  • Irena Miles: Director of Global Quality Control, Jelly Belly Candy Company
  • Roger Summons: Schlumberger Professor of Geobiology, MIT
  • Christy SpackmanAssistant Professor, Art/Science Nexus at Arizona State University

Notable Quotes

“It’s not like we get dead fish for the dead fish flavor. . . ” —customer service agent Chris, explaining how Jelly Belly flavors its “nasty” jelly beans

“Possibly more disturbing than the idea of stinky sock jelly beans is that my coworkers could identify the flavor of authentic boogers—confidently.” —Bridget Lancaster, responding to the America’s Test Kitchen test cooks’ tasting notes on Beanboozled jelly beans

“A lot of times we try to find the object that we're trying to emulate. So in the case of stinky socks, [if] there's no sweaty feet we'll ask people to bring. . . their tennis shoes or we'll get their socks slightly moist and we'll put them in a Ziploc bag and let them ferment for a little while.” —Irena Miles, on the first step in developing a jelly bean that tastes like smelly socks

Special Thanks To. . .

  • Irena Miles, Director Global Quality Control, Jelly Belly Candy Company
  • Roger Summons, Schlumberger Professor of Geobiology, MIT
  • Christy Spackman, Assistant Professor, Art/Science Nexus at Arizona State University 

What did you think of the fourth episode? Do you have a food mystery you think we should investigate on Proof? Let us know in the comments! And if you like what you heard, leave us a review on iTunes and visit Proof's website every Thursday for an all-new episode.

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