Eating with all five senses: Smell

Eating is something we do many times every day and uses all five of our senses. Let’s explore the sense of smell and how that relates to eating habits.

Michigan State University professor Sungeun Cho and graduate student Ed Szczygiel believe an important sense we use when we eat food is our smell. We use our nose when we walk into a kitchen or at a barbeque. Our mind thinks the smell of something tells us what that food might be and if we are going to like it or not.

There are two main ways our sense of smell is used when eating food. There is a direct way, called the orthonasal, when we smell through our nose. There is also an indirect way that happens once we put the food in our mouth, called the retronasal.

During the 4-H Health and Food Science Camp at MSU, students experimented with the sense of smell and eating. They were given flavored jelly beans and asked to plug their nose. The students were surprised that the taste of the jelly bean changed when their nose was plugged. Try it for yourself next time.

A tool used during research at MSU are smell sticks. Many people might not have the best nose for things, and MSU tests their research participants to make sure they can smell the right fragrance. Students during the 4-H Health and Food Science Camp were able to smell different fragrances and discuss which one represented the product they thought.

Students also learned that some people have “odor blindness” or anosmia. Some people lack or lose the ability to smell. Odors they may not be able to smell include sweat, saliva, urine, floral and others.

Students in the MSU Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition are learning and researching many different areas related to food and our senses.

The Michigan 4-H Youth Development Program developed a variety of science lessons that are designed to be used in classrooms or groups. One in particular deals with senses awareness and relates to the many things youth learned about sensory science during the Michigan 4-H Health and Food Science Camp. For more information on this, see the MSU Extension article, “Youth explore sensory science at MSU.”

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