Have you ever noticed that food can smell tasty? Thinking about this, it’s a bizarre concept. Tastiness isn’t a standalone smell, but we can certainly percept it. However, food is partly flavourful because of these aromas. We’ve looked into why aromas are so important in our food.
Flavour is a combination of taste and smell. Without one, you’re only realising half the picture. The connection between taste and aromas has been known since ancient times. Our primitive ancestors would instinctually sniff food to know whether it was safe to eat. This taste-aroma connection has evolved with its ability to know help us understand complex flavours.
When you chew your food, you force air through your nasal passages. This carries the smell of the food with it. This interplay between taste and smells allows us to grasp flavours with less restrictions.
Our perception of flavours is enhanced by two processes: orthonasal olfaction and retronasal olfaction. These two processes change the signals sent by our noses to our brains, which then tells us what food tastes like – simply by the aromas. Our olfactory cells are stimulated by the aromas around and connect this information directly to the brain. Our gustatory cells are clustered in the taste buds in the mouth. These cells taste information and direct these to nearby nerve fibres which are then sent to the brain. Much like our taste buds sending signals to our brains to allow us to savour the flavour, our olfactory nerves pick up food fragrances and sends them to our brains. The chemical system that is able to pick up on this broad taste map is called the chemosensation.
Our olfactory tract nerve cells can detect up to a thousand different types of chemicals, which is much larger than our taste buds. Our taste sensations are only able to decipher sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. Our smell sensations, therefore, broaden our flavour perspective. Combined with our taste sensations we can percept flavours such as spiciness and creaminess.
Taste and aroma combined allow us to truly capture the flavour sensation.