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They had a good time eating the Every-Flavour Beans. Harry got toast, coconut, baked bean, strawberry, curry, grass, coffee, sardine and was even brave enough to nibble the end off a funny grey one Ron wouldn't touch, which turned out to be pepper.

Then there's Dumbledore eating "earwax" one.

Now, some of those flavors are both distinct, easy to identify, and known...

But I seriously doubt that Harry (growing up without proper nutrition on bread and water at Dursleys) knew what flavour a coconut was, or that Dumbledore ate earwax in his spare time.

So how did they know which ones were which for unusual/unfamiliar flavours?

I was assuming they were somehow labeled, but alas - looks like not:

Ron picked up a green bean, looked at it carefully and bit into a corner.
'Bleaaargh – see? Sprouts.'

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    Didn't harry do okay foodwise at the dursleys, not in size but in product? Dudley would steal off his plate so it was likely the same food the rest of the family was eating, plus it was a jolt when harry had to start eating grapefruit quarters so it doesnt sound like he was egregiously malnourished or given a limited range of food. YMMV ofc, it all depends on how its read
    – Mac Cooper
    May 24, 2015 at 14:37
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    @MacCooper - Dudley would steal and eat chewed up cardboard, so I'm uncertain how much stealing Harry's food is an indicator of its quality :) May 26, 2015 at 14:01

2 Answers 2

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It is possible (and would make sense from a marketing perspective) that the jelly beans are also enchanted such that the person eating them is able to identify the flavor; this would increase their novelty value, as a consumer could confidently say that they once ate a liver jellybean. The wiki article suggests that this might be the case, but provides no citations.

That being said, there's no particular indication of this; when first introducing the beans, Ron says that Fred only “reckons” he ate a bogey-flavored one, instead of being completely sure. If the beans are enchanted, it's a subtle enchantment that only helps the consumer identify the flavor instead of making them outright certain of it.

Given the evidence, I'd say that at best there is a subtle enchantment that aids the consumer of the jelly beans in quickly identifying the flavor they're eating; at worst, Rowling just condensed the usual hmm'ing and humm'ing that follows people trying to identify flavors in favor of narrative expediency.

As to your specific examples: although Harry does seem surprisingly certain of the flavor of the beans he eats in the books, he may just be familiar with the flavors. After all, Harry didn't subsist solely on bread and water in the Dursley's house – he did have a cheap lemon popsicle during Dudley's eleventh birthday, and it's possible that he was familiar with coconut flavor through similar occasions.

And, well, you probably don't live to be well over 100 without wondering just what earwax tastes like at some point in your life. And it is a very distinct and memorable flavor.

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    I wouldn’t read too much into Fred saying he might have eaten a bogey-flavoured bean. We know that the twins liked to wind Ron up when he was younger (see also: their yellow rat spell, or the troll fight in the Sorting).
    – alexwlchan
    May 24, 2015 at 14:08
  • @alexwlchan what I meant is that Ron's choice of phrasing puts limits on any flavor-identifying enchantment; one of: "it doesn't exist", "isn't widely known to exist", or "is known to exist but to be unreliable" must be true. Otherwise, Ron would have said something along the lines of "Fred told me he got a bogey flavored one once", as Fred's identification of the flavor would have been guaranteed were there a known reliable enchantment.
    – Tacroy
    May 25, 2015 at 4:21
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Don't forget that there's a lot of tie-in between flavour and aroma. You can probably imagine quite precisely how e.g. cardboard tastes - most of the flavour is in the smell, not the "actual" taste.

Of course, for some things this would be trickier - how could he relate to coconut if he's never eaten coconut? Well, there's many ways he could have been exposed to the smell but not the taste - for example, aromatic shampoo.

Oh, and of course, it's not that hard to taste earwax. When I was a kid, I tasted a lot of things the way of "stick my fingers in my ears, forgot I had them there, clean nails with my teeth" -> instant earwax taste :P This is also how I know how chalk tastes (the same way it smells), or mortar (the same way it smells) or wood (the same way it smells)... There's a bit of a pattern here. Not 100%, but close enough to label a taste some way - I always say hummus (or chickpeas in general) tastes like 100% cardboard (probably because of the high fiber content). And even if I haven't tasted cardboard before, it'd still feel like it's the way it probably tastes.

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    +1 for a good and (what I would consider) much more likely answer—despite the sacrilegious blasphemy levelled against hummus at the end. Jun 24, 2015 at 15:13

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