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How does your sense of smell affect your taste?

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Quick Answer

The sense of smell complements the taste of food, forming the perceived flavor of the food in the brain. Abnormal conditions, such as having a cold, distort this sense of flavor, states the Society for Neuroscience.

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Taste buds detect tastants, the chemicals responsible for how food tastes. Located on the palate and at the back of the mouth, taste buds detect salts, sugars and acids, sending impulses to the taste sectors in the brain stem along cranial nerves. From the brainstem, the impulses travel to the thalamus and then to the cerebral cortex. These messages make the eater aware of the perceived taste of the food, according to the Society for Neuroscience.

Smell is a sensory perception controlled by odorants, airborne molecules detected by sensory cells in the nasal passage lining. Odorants stimulate receptor proteins, inducing a neural response in the cilia located at the ends of the sensory nerves in the mucus membrane. Odorants have their own pattern of activity and are capable of stimulating more than one sensory neuron. The pattern of activity sent to the olfactory bulb develops perceived pattern of the odor. The information sent by the sensory neurons transmits to the olfactory cortex in the orbital frontal lobe. Taste and odor messages then merge, detecting flavor of the food, says the Society of Neuroscience.

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