Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The nose knows, either way

Researchers have finally figured out why coffee that smells heavenly sometimes tastes a bit like hell. It all has to do with whether we smell the scent going in our noses, or coming out as we taste the coffee.
The act of swallowing the drink sends a burst of aroma up the back of the nose from inside the mouth, activating a “second sense of smell” in the brain that is less receptive to the flavour, causing a completely different and less satisfying sensation.
According to researchers, smell apparently works in both directions:
“One sense is when you inhale things from the environment into you, and the other is when the air comes out of you up the nasal passage and is breathed out through the nose.”
The phenomenon is down to the fact that, although we have sensors on our tongue, eighty per cent of what we think of as taste actually reaches us through smell receptors in our nose.
The receptors, which relay messages to our brain, react to odours differently depending on which direction they are moving in.
This would explain the phenomenal cup of (McDonalds!) coffee I had last Thursday - when my nose was so stuffed up I had joined the ranks of mouth-breathers. It also explains why so many people love the scent of fresh brewed coffee, but cannot stand the taste.

There are only two aromas that are understood exactly the same way by the nose, whether coming or going: lavender and - you guessed it - chocolate.

I'm not quite sure what the take away here is. Hold you nose while you sip your coffee for a better tasting brew? Skip the drinking and light a coffee scented candle instead? Only drink coffee when your head is congested?

Let me finish my coffee while I think about that.


Robbo said...

My disagreement with the premise that the coffee doesn't taste as good as it smells made me wonder whether instead of getting the good stuff, these researchers were using cheap Sanka instant and pocketing the balance of the grant money.

Diane said...

I almost hate to admit this, but I often can't tell the difference between the high end stuff and Dunkin' Donuts (which is actually my coffee of choice at home). In many cases, the really good stuff tastes bitter to me.

Now, if someone wanted to gift me a case of Jamaican Blue Mountain...

The researchers would have to set up a dummy corp. to which they would have to write the checks to pull out the money. So much easier to use the Sanka for the tests, but buy the really good stuff for the coffeepot in the lab.