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A trained palate: Understanding complexities of taste, smell could lead to improved diet
Date:5/30/2012

CORVALLIS, Ore. Researchers at Oregon State University have made some fundamental discoveries about how people taste, smell and detect flavor, and why they love some foods much more than others.

The findings could lead to the Holy Grail of nutrition helping people learn to really LIKE vegetables.

As an evolutionary survival mechanism, humans are wired to prefer sweet-tasting foods and avoid bitter substances. In the distant past, that helped us avoid poison and find food that provided energy. Now, it just makes us fat.

In several publications, the most recent in the journal Chemical Senses, scientists have outlined exactly how humans use the nose and tongue to recognize the flavor of foods that are safe to eat. When odor and taste components of foods are congruent, like vanilla and sugar, they are perceived as one sensation which seems to come from the mouth.

"This is a trick that the brain plays on us," said Juyun Lim, an OSU assistant professor of food science and technology. "Vanilla has no taste at all. It's a smell, and the pleasant sensation is coming not from your mouth but from the nose, through the passage way between the back of the mouth and the back of the nose."

When flavors are "incongruent" and not as commonly found together like vanilla and salt then people believe they are smelling vanilla from their nose rather than tasting it in the mouth.

"This was an amazing part of our experiments, we did not expect a result so compelling," Lim said. "There has been confusion for centuries about exactly how our senses of taste and smell work. We're finally starting to work this out."

There are actually several senses that relate to the perceived "flavor" of a food, Lim said. These include taste, which resides solely in the tongue; smell, which is exclusively in the nose; and somesthesis, which includes things like touch, temperature, and the burn of hot peppers. Even though the mou
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Contact: Juyun Lim
juyun.lim@oregonstate.edu
541-737-6507
Oregon State University
Source:Eurekalert

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