How taste and smell interact?
TASTES, SMELLS AND CHEMOSENSORY IRRITANTS
are often perceived as mixtures in food or beverages. A common example is the burning that is often experienced when eating spicy foods. In this case, the trigeminal nerve carries sensory information about chemosensory irritation detected in the mouth and throat, while other nerves carry information about tastes and odors detected in other parts of the mouth and the nose. All of these sensations are combined in the brain to produce what is often mistakenly referred to as the ‘taste’ of a particular food. In fact, the combined sensations make up ‘flavor,’ which includes not only tastes, but also odors along with chemosensory irritation. Naturally the interaction of taste, smell, and chemosensory irritation is a topic of considerable research interest at the Center.
Normal olfactory and gustatory functioning plays a key role in nutrition and food selection, and thus is important for the maintenance of a good quality of life. Smell and taste are closely inter-related. An impairment of the function of one sense often affects the function of the other sense. In fact, complaints of gustatory loss usually reflect smell rather than taste dysfunction. Deficits in these senses not only can reduce the pleasure and comfort from food, but can also lead to food poisoning or over-exposure to environmentally hazardous agents that are otherwise
detectable by smell and taste. Researchers at the Center are exploring the factors that influence how individuals perceive and respond to chemosensory irritants, and how different irritants interact.
Chemosensory irritation is the detection of chemical irritants in the mouth and nose, or on the skin. This sensory system is anatomically independent from the senses of taste and smell. The detection of chemosensory irritation can also serve as a warning sign for a variety of potentially harmful stimuli. However, sensations of irritation — such as pungency, warmth, cooling, and tingle — are sometimes considered desirable in certain foods, beverages, and health-care products.
Ongoing research projects at the Center that are expanding knowledge of chemosensory sensation and perception include:·
• Identification of “blockers” of specific tastes, smells, and irritants, such as bitter tastes, food odors, or painful irritants
• The study of interactions among taste, smell, and chemosensory irritation.
• The roles played by age, gender, prior dietary experience, and genetics in the development of human taste preferences and sensitivity.
• The influence of cognitive factors in our responses to odors and irritants.
• Investigation of the relationships among odors, memory, and emotion.
• Analyses of how individual taste qualities interact to enhance or suppress taste perception.
• The relationship between sensitivities to bitter and sweet tastes and alcohol intake.
• Identification of individual differences in perception of different bitter compounds.
• The roles played by age and gender in determining preference for various concentrations of carbonation in beverages.