February 1, 2016

How Scent Affects Taste

Young Sophia sits poised at the dinner table as her plateful of broccoli and cauliflower grows cold. She already devoured her favorite parts of the meal (the chicken, mashed potatoes and apple juice).

She knows she can’t get up until those veggies are gone.

With the clock ticking behind her and precious hours of playtime slipping away, Young Sophia reluctantly resolves to swallow the plate’s remnants down with her fingers desperately wrapped around her nostrils.

Her theory? If she can’t smell the broccoli, she won’t be able to taste it either.

Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Yet we’ve all witnessed this and/or participated in the action at some point in our lives and guess what?

It actually works.  

In fact, there’s a whole science dedicated to smell, a portion of which expands upon the theory that smell has a pretty intense impact on the taste buds.

pinching nose

Image: Flickr

Your Nose And Mouth Work Simultaneously To Produce The Sensation Known As Taste

The tongue’s palate, as you might be aware, is pretty basic on its own. Approximately 8,000 tiny taste buds come together to put forth the flavors you might recognize as sweet, savory (umami), salty, bitter and sour.

If taste concluded at the tip of the tongue, that’s about as flavorful as things would get. It’s not until the nose gets involved that more in-depth tasting really sets in.

Wine Tasting

Wine connoisseurs employ both smelling and tasting wine to determine the overall quality of a wine. (Image: Flickr)

How Is It That The Nose Becomes A Part Of The Tasting Experience?

Unless you’ve got a death grip on your nostrils or a pretty nasty cold (more on colds and taste later) you’re breathing in and out while chewing. Throughout this motion, the sensory passages in your nostrils intertwine with your tongue’s palate.

The end result? A much more pronounced sense of taste.

“Fun Fact: There are two activities that serve as social experimentation exemplifying the combination of scent and taste. They are wine smelling and coffee cupping.”

Coffee Cupping

Professional coffee cuppers give feedback on various roasts of coffee beans from Ethiopia. (Image: Wikipedia)

Ways To Dull Down Taste

Because it’s important to smell while you taste, there are many things that can dull down your taste buds temporarily or even permanently.

One well known example is catching a cold. Have you ever noticed that your food tastes much blander when your nose is running and/or stuffy? The reason for this is the dulling of olfactory receptors, which are very important sensory elements found inside of your nose.

Olfactory receptors are designed to detect odor molecules, which are the components used by your brain to identify particular smells and, due to the chewing process, particular tastes.

Additionally, odor molecules alert your body of all types of things from the presence of dangerous toxins to the appearance of aromatic flowers. So, if you wish to dull down your taste buds in order to eat something undesirable, you could simply hold your nose and chew without the help of your nostrils. Other factors that can dull down your sense of smell and therefore your sense of taste include:

  • Having a cold
  • Various prescription medications
  • Hormones
  • Smoking
  • Radiation
  • Insecticides
  • Aging
  • The presence of certain debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s, diabetes and hypertension

Enhancing The Flavor

To the same effect, if you want to really add some oomph to your dining experience, it’s easy to wake up your sense of smell by introducing titillating scents found in:

  • Flowers ( the spicy fragrant dianthus or the sweetly scented nicotiana are top picks)
  • Essential Oils (think intense, aromatic scents like eucalyptus or peppermint)
  • Exercise (Experts suggest that cardio exercise is a great way to moisten your nostrils and keep them working at their best.)

It All Comes Down To Science

Interested in learning more about the way scent affects your life experience? Learn the science of smell and find out how your nose reacts to and deciphers approximately 10,000 unique aromas.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith is an ambitious wordsmith most known for her uncanny ability to compose catchy, melodic jingles, draft compelling web content and scribe chart topping sci-fi thrillers.