The best chefs in the world will tell you that sight and smell are just as important as taste in regards to their culinary masterpieces. The science of scent tells us that our olfactory and gustatory senses are closely intertwined. Think about how food tastes less potent when you have a stuffy cold. Or how you can almost taste a home cooked meal when you walk through the door at dinnertime.
The connection between taste and smell is particularly handy, and has been since ancient times. According to finedininglovers.com “our primitive ancestors used to smell food to understand whether it was edible or not,” like we still do today before we pour ourselves a glass of milk that’s close to its expiration date. Two processes called ‘Orthonasal olfaction’ and ‘retronasal olfaction’ enhance our perception of flavor. These processes, believe it or not, change the signals sent by the nose to the brain into taste, making it possible to know what a food might taste like just by smelling it.
We’ve already discussed how smell is linked to memory, so it’s not surprising to see smell’s direct connection to taste. Taste and smell help us navigate all the different flavors that our tastebuds can detect—sweet, sour, salty and so on. The taste buds send signals to our brain so we can savor those flavors. Similarly, our olfactory nerves pick up the fragrances of the foods. This stimulates the sensory cells in the brain and tells us what flavors to expect. Smell proves to be an extremely powerful sense—so much so that it can affect taste!