(HealthNewsDigest.com) – You taste a food and declare it delicious, bitter, crunchy, sweet or awful. How do you come up with that assessment? Is it your taste buds, eyes or nose that helps you experience flavor? Is it all three working together? Loss of your sense of taste or smell often signals a more serious health condition. Many who have had COVID-19 report losing their sense of smell. Having dentures, getting older, or taking certain medications can reduce our sense of taste, too.
We use words to describe the taste and aroma of foods. Smelly, odorous, musty, yeasty, stale, foul, rancid, bitter, and off-tasting can describe negative sensory attributes of foods and drinks. These terms are often used to help set quality standards for foods. Buttery, nutty, sweet, creamy, flowery, robust, fruity, peppery, pungent, ripe and spicy can explain positive sensory properties of foods.
In your brain you own a library of colors, aromas, tastes, and mouthfeels that you need to tap into when you experience the flavor of food. Taste begins with color and color intensity. Our eyes capture color and send that image to the brain. To show how color can trick your sense of taste, most people believe that the green color of extra virgin olive oil is an indicator of quality. People believe that the highest quality extra virgin olive oil must be green. The color of the oil only reflects the ripeness of the olives at harvest. Green olive oil has a distinctive bitter taste because it comes from green olives that are richer in antioxidants. Black olives produce a golden oil with a buttery taste due to fewer antioxidants. Both varieties can be extra virgin olive oil of excellent quality, however, one oil is greenish and the other is more golden.
The human sense of smell is extremely sharp. We can detect and identify dozens of aromas. When we smell aromas, which are volatile compounds that enter the surrounding air, they dissolve in the mucus of our nose and reach tissues located at the top of the nasal cavity behind the eyes. These olfactory receptors capture the aroma and send a message to the brain. Hyposmia is a reduced ability to detect odors. This often happens as we age. Anosmia is the complete inability to detect odors. A person can lose their sense of smell for many reasons but it usually comes back within 2 years. Without smell, foods are far less interesting.
Simultaneous to smelling a food, you may be placing it in your mouth to taste it, another part of food’s overall flavor experience. You have anywhere between two to eight thousand taste buds all over your mouth. Supertasters perceive the flavors of foods more strongly than other people. They may have more taste buds than the average and are particularly sensitive to bitter flavors. Your taste buds die and regenerate every 1 to 2 weeks.
On the roof of the mouth, in the back of the throat, and on the gums, you experience the temperature of food, its texture and aftertaste. These flavor components are sent to the brain through nerves. When we chew with our mouths closed, the action of chewing pushes puffs of air up toward the nose. As we swallow with a closed mouth we exhale through the nose and residual aromas in the mouth come in contact with receptors in the nose. These receptors capture the aromas in the mouth and send a second message to the brain that provides the aftertaste of food.
Research has shown that supertasters are often omnivores and people with a reduced sense of taste are more often vegetarians. Those who drink sweetened soda daily have taste desires that are skewed toward sweetness. Whereas those who drink strong coffee daily are more inclined to enjoy foods with a more bitter flavor.
Next time you bite into a buttery cookie, drink a delicious glass of wine, or enjoy a steak dinner, consider all the work your eyes, nose, and mouth are doing to help you enjoy the true flavor of that food.
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books.
Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:
Diabetes Counter – the most up-to-date information on managing diabetes
Calorie Counter – a weight loss guide that won’t let you down
Protein Counter – put the latest protein recommendations to work for you
Healthy Wholefoods Counter – planet-friendly eating made easy
Complete Food Counter – food counts and nutrition information at your fingertips
Fat and Cholesterol Counter – newest approach to heart-healthy eating
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Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.
For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: www.TheNutritionExperts.com or on twitter: @JoAnnHeslinRD.