Do you know that your nose and tongue have one thing in common? They both can "smell" food! Yes, that's right! According to a latest study, published in The Journal of Chemical Senses, the sensors in our nose - called functional olfactory receptors, which help detect good or bad odours - are also present on our tongue. As per the researchers, this new finding may help modify food flavour. "Our research may help explain how odour molecules modulate taste perception. This may lead to the development of odour-based taste modifiers that can help combat the excess salt, sugar, and fat intake associated with diet-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes," said study senior author Mehmet Hakan Ozdener.
Many of us associate flavour with taste; however, the unique flavour of various foods and drinks comes more from smell than from the taste. Smell offers comprehensive information about the flavour as well as quality of food; for example, if the food on your plate is chocolate cake, noodles, or biryani? Human brain combines all the sensory input from nose, tongue and other senses to create the multi-modal sensation of flavour.
Researchers used methods to maintain living human taste cells in culture. Using genetic and biochemical methods to probe the taste cell cultures, they found that the human taste cells contain many key molecules known to be present in olfactory receptors.
The researchers further used a new method, known as calcium imaging, through which they found that the cultured taste cells respond to odour molecules in the same manner as olfactory receptor cells. The results of the study showed functionality of olfactory receptors in human taste cells. It was found that olfactory receptors are imperative in the taste system. Supporting this possibility, other experiments by the Monell scientists demonstrated that a single taste cell can contain both taste and olfactory receptors.
"The presence of olfactory receptors and taste receptors in the same cell will provide us with exciting opportunities to study interactions between odour and taste stimuli on the tongue," said Ozdener.
In future, researchers will further analyse olfactory receptors, if they are located on a specific taste cell type; for example, sweet- or salt-detecting cells.