A New Study Finds That Humans Can "Smell" Food with Their Tongues
Odor receptors found in our nostrils are also all over our tongues, scientists say.
In a strange twist of evolutionary development, scientists have confirmed that odor receptors found in human nostrils are also found all over the tongue, according to a new study published in the journal Chemical Senses. A team of researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia discovered the development by studying the papillae found on human tongues.
Researchers used genetic and biochemical tests to study human taste cells and, in conjunction with calcium imaging, they found that the tongue's taste cells react to scents and odors similarly to cells that pick up smells alone. The study notes that there's little known research on the olfactory system, which contains around 400 different sensory functions that all help the brain to recognize odors. The research recognizes that scientists have long held the belief that the bodily functions that allow mammals to taste and smell are separate, but that the human brain helps us experience flavor as we know it now. Our tongues are good at discerning whether food is overly salty, sweet, bitter, or very sour, whereas noses were thought to pick up on unique details from the scent of a food.
This research challenges that notion, however, and provides evidence illustrating that we may actually be experiencing flavors solely provided by receptors on our tongues, and not in the nose. The key functionalities between the nose and the tongue may actually be clearer when you take food out of the equation. "I am not saying that [if you] open your mouth, you smell," Mehmet Hakan Ozdener, the study's lead author and a cell biologist at the Monell Chemical Sense Center, told The Guardian. "Our research may help explain how odor molecules modulate taste perception. The presence of olfactory receptors and taste receptors in the same cell will provide us with exciting opportunities to study interactions between odor and taste stimuli on the tongue."
Ozdener says he hopes the research could help combat America's obesity epidemic by creating strong flavors without overloading on unhealthy ingredients, such as sodium. "This may lead to the development of odor-based taste modifiers that can help combat the excess salt, sugar, and fat intake associated with diet-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes," he said.