By now, the statistic is well known amongst food lovers and scientists alike: 80 percent of flavor perception is governed by one’s sense of smell. Any child who has ever plugged his nose to block out the taste of a food he dislikes could tell you this is true, even if he does not understand the science behind his action. Smell scientists like Avery Gilbert are now positing, however, that our sense of smell may be more intricate than we previously thought.
Previously scientists believed that human olfactory receptors could detect up to 10,000 scents. New studies, however, have dismissed this number as too low. A study at Cornell University suggests that our olfactory receptors can modify the odorants in the human sensory environment into a seemingly infinite number of perceptions—thus opening the possibility for similarly infinite variations in taste.
Additional research by the American Chemical Society has revealed that one’s sense of smell is not limited solely to the nose: the study found that olfactory receptors also exist in the heart, stomach, and lungs. This discovery helps support the idea that eating truly is a full body experience—and one that can be affected dramatically by various health conditions that affect major organs.
These new discoveries may be useful to keep in mind when preparing food for your next dinner party. Assess whether your guests could have any conditions that could affect their senses of smell and plan your dishes accordingly—try serving dishes with a bolder flavor for guests who complain of a cold or asthma.