category menu

Sense of smell

The Nose Knows: 6 Cool Flavor Facts About Our Sense of Smell

Our Olfactory System Is Linked to Taste and Flavor Sensation

and the sense of smell is connected with eating pleasure much more than you think.

The symphony of smell and taste equals flavor

Our sense of smell has a significant impact on how we perceive flavor and the taste of food we eat. If we cannot smell, a syndrome called anosmia, we do not taste foods in the same way as those with a keen sense of smell. If we have a cold or upper respiratory infection, our sense of smell is temporarily affected, (we smell less because our nasal passages are blocked) and our food tastes bland. Regular long-term smokers do not smell food in the same way as non-smokers.

Smell is the most important part of how we perceive the flavor of foods and drinks.

We taste with our tongue, and by breathing the aromas in the food and drink we consume, the true flavor of the food is perceived by our brain.

Taste is defined as true gustation while flavor is the olfactory-derived sensation from food.

Here is a side simple view of the anatomy of the nose. The olfactory system is very complex and combines the physical act of sniffing and breathing with a genetic and chemistry process of olfactory receptor neurons and perception of odor molecules in the aroma. There is a direct link of the sense of smell with the brain.

Research in the field of taste and flavor show that we still have much to discover about our sense of smell. But one point is known: our sense of smell is the most critical aspect on food preferences and enjoyment!

Our nose knows, so take care of it.


Six Interesting Facts on our Sense of Smell

#1 Regeneration

The olfactory system is clever. Do you have a bad cold or have had an exposure to a toxic substance? These both affect the mucus in our nose and can have detrimental affects on our sense of smell. On a cellular level, the olfactory neuron, which differs from other neurons in the body, has a life span of 30 to 40 days and will regenerate in order to keep our sense of smell at the most optimal level. Note that aging and the older population have less sense of smell than younger adults. So, even if we have regeneration, we lose some sense of smell as we get older.

#2 Memory

The large amount of connections in the central processing of smell links olfaction to other functions such as what we eat, regulation of temperature, our sleep cycle, memory, hearing, vision and taste.

Odor information is stored in long-term memory and has strong links to emotional memory. A theory for this is that the olfactory sensory system is anatomical tied to the limbic system and hippocampus, areas of the brain involved in emotion and memory.

This is why you can smell something and it triggers a memory of something that was linked to this smell. Like your mom’s cooking!

#3 Linked with Puberty

Scientists believe smell and puberty could be related. The areas in the brain that are involved in smell and puberty develop together during embryonic development. Therefore, a smell deficit is often seen with a delay in pubertal development. A key example is seen with Kallmann syndrome where there is an absence of smell, called anosmia, in a person that also has the absence of puberty commencement. 

#4 Genetics

Incredibly, olfactory receptor genes represent about 1% of all expressed genes in the human genome, the largest known gene family. Approximately 1000 types of odorant receptors exist and research shows that genetic variations in odor can affect how we perceive flavor. A good example is tasting cilantro, where some people taste soap, and others adore the taste of cilantro.

#5 Smelling disorders affect dietary intake

Taste and smell are separate sensory systems that work together to make flavor. Our sense is smell is strongly linked to food intake, because when there is a physical problem to process smells, the food intake and diet are affected in a negative way.

Our olfactory sensation, when working as it should, is like a soldier, accessing the food before it enters the mouth. A learned response will allow us to open and eat willingly because we know what foods we are eating. When offered an unfamiliar food, we smell it before we taste it. Smell is so important to eating enjoyment and is one of the first defenses against spoiled food. The good thing is that smell is flexible and suitable to learning when compared to taste. Our tongue just tastes but our smell, with connections to memory, can be learned.

#6 Sense of smell is the only organ that is directly connected to the brain

The olfactory sensory system is directly connected to the brain, unlike other sensory mechanisms with pass thru other organs before the brain. This is probably why our sense of smell is so connected to our memory and emotions!

So our nose does know. Ah, deep breaths and take time to smell the food you eat.


Have you reached the end and want to read more? Please tune in on the blog for more ways that you can move to ‘foodie happiness’ with the simple pleasures of a meal or drink, prepared or served with flavor, taste and presentation at the forefront. Simple dishes, simple ideas, simple tricks to bring taste and appreciation.

If you wish to receive new articles or our monthly newsletter directly in your email inbox you can subscribe to BrightonYourHealth. By joining us, your email will remain private and you won’t miss another recipe, health or gastronomic tip. Download your free 13 page E-report on “How to Eat Like the French Without a Food Snob Attitude” after subscribing.

subscribe to our newsletter


Warmly, Mary

, , , , ,

2 Responses to The Nose Knows: 6 Cool Flavor Facts About Our Sense of Smell

  1. Faylinn September 7, 2016 at 18:19 #

    I had no idea that the way that we smell out of our noses is genetic. However, it makes sense, because I have always wondered why some people taste soap when they eat cilantro. To me, it doesn’t really have a taste or a smell, but I never eat tacos without it. Yet, that most likely has a lot to do with my Mexican heritage as well.

    • mbrighton September 12, 2016 at 12:02 #

      Hi Faylinn!Thanks for your comment. I find it interesting that you don’t find cilantro with a particular smell or taste,it has a strong (and wonderful) taste in my opinion. Maybe it is because you grew up with eating it?

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

Subscribe without commenting

free tracking