No two senses are as closely related as smell and taste. Many flavors, especially sweet flavors, taste so good because you smell them first. Without the sense of smell, these flavors are hard to distinguish. While there are some skeptics, experiments have been conducted by seasoned scientists and at school science fairs that show how closely the two senses are related.
The Mechanics of Taste
Taste buds are found on the tongue and contain receptor cells. The front section of the tongue reads sweet molecules while salt and bitter receptors are located at the back of the tongue. These are connected to nerves, which stimulate the back part of the brain to identify the different tastes. Receptor cells are located deep inside the nose. Called the olfactory nerves, they carry impulses about the odor to the brain to the olfactory bulb, located in the front of the brain.
The Strawberry Experiment
One of the simplest experiments was published in the Oxford journal "Chemical Senses" in 1988. Participants were asked to smell strawberries, with and without whipped cream. The combined smell of the strawberries and whipped cream was rated the sweetest. The experiment continued with peanut butter, which did not enhance the odor of sweetness. However, when participants held their nose, the ability to sense sweetness declined by 85 percent, demonstrating the relationship between the senses of smell and taste.
Testing Different Flavors
An experiment by Science Buddies, a nonprofit organization that supports students in their quest for science knowledge, emphasizes the differences between sweet, salty, bitter and sour. Students plug the participants' nose and have them taste different substances to see if they can identify them and their taste. Some of the foods and substances used in the experiment included onion mush, lime pulp, blended Brussels sprouts, peanut paste, and chopped and blended candy mints. Variations on this experiment can include other foods and substances. The experiment showed that smell matters! When the participants wore nose plugs, their sense of taste was less intense and not as accurate, according to the website.
An experiment conducted by PBS kids showed that smell is the clear winner when it comes to determining what a substance is. This experiment used different sauces such as ketchup, mustard and barbecue sauce. The students put the sauces on cotton swabs and then placed the swabs on the participant's tongue. The person had his eyes closed in one experiment and held his nose in the other. Based on reactions from the students, it was hard to identify the sauces when they held their nose. One eight-year-old said, "Smell wins."
- Science Buddies: The Nose Knows Smell, but What About Taste?; 2011
- PBS Kids: Taste v. Smell; 2011
- Selah School: Can Students Identify Fruit Juices Better With Taste, Smell, or Both?; 2004
- Social Issues Research Centre: The Smell Report; April 2011
- "Chemical Senses"; Taste--smell Interactions are Tastant and Odorant Dependent; Robert Frank and Jennifer Byram; March 1988
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