22Oct2021
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Smell & Taste

What is Smell?

What actually is smell? Have you ever thought about it? Imagine trying to describe the smell of a rose to someone who has never possessed the ability to detect odours. How would you do it?

Olfactory experiences are very difficult to describe even to people who have no olfactory problems. Smell is a very rarefied, esoteric experience.

The dominance of vision in humans has greatly relegated our sense of smell and, even if it ever had a vocabulary, this is now long lost. The best we can do to describe a smell is to say that it is “like” or probably “a bit like” another smell.

It is at least as difficult to imagine trying to describe the look of a rose to someone who has been blind since birth.

And for those of us with full olfactory ability – have you ever considered what it might be like to be suddenly deprived of your own sense of smell, and what effect that might have on life?

Smell & Taste

What is Taste?

There is a common misperception that the word ‘taste’ refers to everything we experience when we eat or drink. This isn’t actually true.

The word taste, or gustation, to give its full name, refers to what is detected by the taste cells, located on the front and back of the tongue and on the sides, back and roof of the mouth.  These receptor cells, or taste buds, bind with molecules from the food or drink being consumed and send signals to the brain.  The way our brains perceive these stimuli is what we refer to as taste, with there being five recognised basic tastes: salty, bitter, sweet, sour and umami.

Some scientists think that there are other tastes we are capable of perceiving.  A study published in July 2015 indicates that fat may be a taste in its own right.  There is also debate as to whether metallic tastes are actually a true taste or are the result of reactions between different metals present in saliva.  A metallic taste in the mouth can actually be an indicator of a taste disorder.  To date no specific receptor cell has been discovered for metallic tastes.