New Delhi: Taste and smell are closely linked. The tongue can only differentiate five flavors: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, savory. But as you eat, odor molecules from the food move through your nasal passages to the olfactory receptor neurons. Each of this is only activated by a specific type of odor but together they can convey deeply complex tastes to the brain.
Just how much of what we taste derives from the sense of smell?
It is frequently asserted that somewhere between 75 and 95 % of what we commonly think of as taste actually comes from the sense of smell. However, empirical evidence in support of such a precise-sounding quantitative claim is rarely, if ever, cited. Indeed, a closer look at the study that appears to have given rise to statements of this general type simply does not support the claim as made.
Furthermore, the widespread disagreement concerning which senses should be considered as constitutive of flavour perception and which merely modulator means that it is probably not going to be possible to provide an exact answer to the question of how much of what people commonly think of as taste actually comes from the nose, until one has carefully defined one’s terms.
Nevertheless, despite the difficulty associated with generating a precise value, or even range of values, most researchers would appear to agree that olfaction plays a “dominant” role in the tasting of food. This important observation (just without the precise-sounding percentages attached) certainly deserves to be shared more widely.
Crucially, the evidence suggests that it can sometimes inspire the modernist chefs, not to mention the culinary artists and designers, to change the way in which they deliver multi-sensory flavor experiences to their customers (in order to capitalize on olfaction’s often dominant role in our perception of food and drink).