How our Brain Interprets Smell and Taste
How our Sense of Smell Affects Taste
[intro]Eating is an activity which involves the collective effort of taste, sight and smell. Therefore the smell of the food can influence its taste. Similarly, the color of the food or the look of the dish can change the taste of a meal. In most cases, something which smells sweet influences the brain hence translating to better taste.[/intro]
The senses of smell and taste play an important role in our lives by stimulating the desire to eat hence providing nourishment to the body while enhancing our social activities. When our smell and taste becomes affected by other factors, e.g. cold, we eat poorly, socialize less, and generally feel worse. These two senses also warn us of other dangers, like poisonous fumes, fire and spoilt food.
How smell and taste work
Our body has a chemical sensing system (chemosensation), which smell and taste are part. Smelling and tasting involve complicated processes which start when molecules from the substance around us cause stimulation in specific nerve cells in our nose, mouth or throat. Messages from these nerve cells are then transmitted to the brain where identification of the actual smell or taste is done.
The smell nerve cells (Olfactory cells) are usually stimulated by fragrance, smell of bread baking, or any other odors around us. These cells are located in a small patch of tissue in the nose and are connected directly to the brain. Taste nerve cells (Gustatory cells) are found in the taste buds of both the mouth and throat. When food or drink mixes with saliva, they react to eat hence figuring out its taste. The tongue has some small buds which mostly contain taste buds. These taste nerve cells usually send taste information through nerve fibers to the brain for interpretation.
The chemosensory system of the body has thousands of nerve endings which contribute to the sense of smell and taste. These nerves are mostly concentrated in the moist surfaces of the nose, mouth, throat and eyes. They help in identifying sensations like the Ammonia, Menthol, or the heat of chili peppers, etc. When a drink or fruit is placed in the mouth, the taste cells become activated and helps us to perceive the flavor.
In a research conducted by French researchers, a white wine was covered with an odorless dye and several wine experts were asked to describe its taste. Surprisingly, the wine experts described it using red wine descriptors instead of using their expertise to figure out the white wine taste. This suggested that the smell plays an important role in determining the taste of a drink or food. Although smell is not technically part of taste, it definitely influences a person’s perception about a food or drink. Drinks and foods are therefore predominantly identified by the sense of smell and not necessarily taste.
The human brain recognizes taste from a combination of the food’s smell and touch. The brain behaves so because while eating or drinking, all sensory information comes from the same location irrespective of the type of food or drink. “Favor” can be used to describe the taste of a food more accurately because it carries smell which is used in determining the taste.
Whenever we sip or eat something, the sensory cells which are located side by side with the taste cells become activated to help us perceive additional qualities of the drink or food, such as spiciness, creaminess or temperature. Taste is therefore mostly perceived in the act of touch caused by the contact of the mouth with food or drink creating the flavor sensation.
Although the mouth has no cells which can detect scents in the mouth, smells also appear to come from the mouth. For instance, the strawberry sensation is felt from the smell cells found at the far end of the nasal passage. The information generated by these cells is then sent to the mouth through olfactory referral process hence making the smell to be felt in the mouth. You can as well demonstrate this phenomenon by chewing a strawberry bean. You will notice the strawberry odor as long as your nose is open, you will feel the blackberry odor which won’t be the case when the nose is held. This proves that smell cells in the nasal cavity are connected to the mouth which helps a person to get information related to the scent of the food or drink.
Therefore smell affects taste and taste affects smell as well.