Taste vs Smell – Sensory Symbiosis

Taste vs smell

Taste vs Smell – Sensory Symbiosis.

At the time of year when our taste buds are pushed to the limit with the over indulgence of almost every type of food and drink on offer, we look at taste vs smell to see how closely they work together, which allows us to enjoy such fantastic aromas and flavours.

Smell You Later

As you may or may not know, taste and smell are separate senses with their own receptor organs, yet they are intimately entwined. Tastants (which are chemicals in foods) are detected by taste buds, which consist of special sensory cells. When stimulated, these cells send signals to specific areas of the brain, which make us conscious of the perception of taste. Similarly, specialised Cells in the nose pick up odorants, airborne odour molecules.

Odorants stimulate receptor proteins found on hair-like olfactory cilia at the tips of the sensory cells, a process that initiates a neural response. This means messages about taste and smell converge, allowing us to detect the flavours of food.

Taste vs smell

There’s Something In The Air

We are all familiar of that feeling, when sound’s awareness to changes in air pressure and sight’s awareness to changes in light, taste’s and smells are aware of chemical changes in the air and in food. Even though taste and smell are separate senses with their own receptor organs, they are nonetheless intimately entwined.

This close relationship is most apparent in how we perceive the flavours of food. As anyone with a head cold have witnessed, food does taste different when the sense of smell is impaired. Actually, what is really being affected is the flavour of the food or the combination of taste and smell. That’s because only the taste, not the food odours, are being detected. The taste itself is focused on distinguishing chemicals that have a sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or umami taste (umami is Japanese for savoury).
However, interactions between the senses of taste and smell enhance our perceptions of the foods we eat.

Do You Have Good Taste?

Tastants, which are chemicals in foods (as mentioned above) are detected by taste-buds, special structures embedded within small protuberances on the tongue called papillae. Other taste buds are found in the back of the mouth and on the palate. Every person has between 5,000 and 10,000 taste buds…WOW! Each taste bud consists of 50 to 100 specialised sensory cells, which are stimulated by tastants such as sugars, salts, or acids. When the sensory cells are stimulated, they cause signals to be transferred to the ends of nerve fibres, which send impulses along cranial nerves to taste regions in the brain stem.

From here, the impulses are relayed to the thalamus and on to a specific area of the cerebral cortex. This makes us conscious of the perception of taste.

Molecules And Mucus Membranes

Airborne odour molecules which are called odorants, are detected by specialised sensory neurons located in a small patch of the mucus membrane lining the roof of the nose. Axons of these sensory cells pass through perforations in the overlying bone and enter two elongated olfactory bulbs lying against the underside of the frontal lobe of the brain.
Odorants stimulate receptor proteins found on hair-like cilia at the tips of the sensory cells, a process that initiates a neural response. An odorant acts on more than one receptor but does so to varying degrees.

Taste vs smell

Detailed drawing of magnified taste bud

Similarly, a single receptor interacts with more than one different odorant, though also to varying degrees. Therefore, each odorant has its own pattern of activity, which is set up in the sensory neurons. This pattern of activity is then sent to the olfactory bulb, where other neurons are activated to form a spatial map of the odour. Neural activity created by this stimulation passes to the primary olfactory cortex at the back of the underside, or orbital, part of the frontal lobe. Olfactory information then passes to adjacent parts of the orbital cortex, where the combination of odour and taste information helps create the perception of flavour.

Taste vs Smell – COVID-19 Criteria

It is also unclear as to why people have lost their taste and sense of smell when contracting COVID-19? There are theories, but nothing official as yet. People who lose their sense of taste and smell usually get it back within 7 days, but some have reported it can take up to 28 days to get their taste or smell back after having the virus. There is still so much unknown regarding the COVID-19 virus, but there are hundreds of ongoing studies that will shed light on the virus, which will inevitably help us understand it more in the long-term.

In addition to a loss of smell or taste, there are several other symptoms to watch out for with COVID-19. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • aches and pains
  • chills
  • sore throat
  • headaches
  • stuffy or runny nose
  • diarrhoea, nausea, and vomiting

If you think you may have COVID-19, stay home and try to isolate yourself from others in your household.

Contact your doctor to discuss your symptoms. Your doctor can also advise you on getting tested and how to care for yourself if you test positive for COVID-19.

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