Our Marvelous Ability To Taste And Smell


  • There are five tastes defined as salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami (savory).
  • Papillae, which are the little bumps on your tongue, contain taste buds. The average person has about 10,000 taste buds containing sensory cells that communicate with the brain. When food actives these sensory cells, the brain detects a taste, like sweetness or saltiness.
  • All five tastes can be detected across the tongue although the back of the tongue is extra sensitive to bitterness which is thought to prevent us from swallowing toxic substances.
  • The palate (roof of the mouth), cheeks, epiglottis (prevents food from entering the windpipe) , and nasopharynx (upper area of throat behind the nose) also contribute to the sensation of taste.


  • Super-tasters have more papillae and taste buds than average tasters or non-tasters and are very sensitive to bitter flavors. They are more likely to be picky eaters and dislike many foods.
  • A non-taster likes hot, spicy food, and prefers more seasoning to perk up flavor and interest. Think Tabasco sauce.
  • An average taster is likely to enjoy most foods. Their sense of taste is sharp enough to detect taste and flavor nuances.


  • Taste and flavor are not the same thing. Flavor includes taste and smell, as well texture of food, and our exposure to food experiences throughout life. We are born with the basic tastes, but we build a repertoire of flavors unique to us. Preferences and dislikes shape our food choices.


  • The sense of smell is called olfaction or the detection of odors. As we breathe in a smell, specialized receptor nerves in the nose and sinuses send a signal to the brain that defines the smell.
  • Smell dominates flavor. As we breathe in and out our brain detects smell and pairs with taste to create flavor. Think of the smell of baking bread and then eating a warm slice just out of the oven. Add a bit of butter, and you have a perfect and positive example of flavor and memory.
  • If you are a wine lover, you might swirl your glass of wine to capture the nuance of smell so you can pair it with the taste of the wine and ultimately pair the wine with food.


  • Taste and smell can be temporarily shut down by nasal passages compromised by a bad cold.
  • With Covid, a common symptom is the loss of taste and smell known as dysgeusia.  People also report a strange “metallic” taste and odor that ultimately resolves. Research suggests this is the virus causing toxicity to taste buds and olfactory nervesOvertime, most people experience complete recovery of taste and smell although a few may not.
  • Disease like cancer or medication, such as chemotherapy, can cause a metallic taste that can affect appetite.
  • Nutrition plays a role in the health of the taste buds and ultimately the nervous system. B12 plays a role in maintaining healthy nerves. A deficiency could reduce the sense of taste.
  • Aging reduces the number of taste buds which may contribute to a loss of appetite and interest in food.
CMH Developer
Author: CMH Developer


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