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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Season to Taste

Updated: Jan 8

alumni group at Monell Chemical Sciences Center

How often do you see the phrase “season to taste” in a recipe?

That phrase will forever have a deeper meaning after experiencing the Monell Flavor Quiz at the Monell Chemical Sciences Center in Philadelphia.

Our Purdue University Nutrition Science Alumni Network arranged an event at the Center during FNCE, the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Do we experience taste and smell the same or differently?

When I “season to taste” I will sense the flavors in a food differently from you. The same food may taste saltier, or spicier, or sweeter, or more intensely bitter to me or to you. Each of us experiences tastes and smells uniquely.

How we perceive flavors is influenced to a large extent by our genes. Flavor perception is also affected by our age, gender, experience, and environment.

As you likely know, our perception of flavor is a combination of the senses of taste and smell. That is why when we have a cold, food does not taste the same.

How does our sense of smell influence how we experience flavor?

Did you know that we experience odors in the foods we eat in two distinct phases? “Orthonasal olfaction” occurs when we perceive the odor of food before it enters the mouth. “Retronasal olfaction” occurs when the food is in our mouths and we perceive the odor through the passage between the nose and the throat.

To experience the role of retronasal olfaction in the sensation of flavor, try the “Jelly Bean Experiment.” Note the photo of the group wearing the attractive contraptions for closing our noses. Your fingers can work just as well. Make sure your nose is closed so tightly that you are unable to easily swallow.

Place a jelly bean in your mouth and begin chewing and experiencing the flavor. You will probably be able to tell it is sweet but not be able to tell what flavor it is. While it is still in your mouth, release your nose. Voila – the flavor will appear.

What does the Flavor Quiz teach us?

Our group also experienced the Monell Flavor Quiz, which consists of 6 odors and 6 tastes. We evaluated the intensity of the odors from “no odor” to “strongest odor ever.” We evaluated taste intensity from “like water” to “strongest imaginable.”

We also described how much we liked the odor and taste from “do not like at all” to “like extremely.” We were asked to describe the tastes as salty, sour, bitter, sweet, burn, cool, unami (savory), or no taste.

We were then shown how our ratings (on a 7-point scale) compared to everyone else who has taken the quiz. There were numerous differences between us. There were smells that were odorless to some that others could identify. There were tastes that some detected to taste “like water” and others detected a distinct taste.

These differences have a genetic basis. It was a confirmation of why I perceive spicy peppers with a greater burn than my husband. When I tasted the solution with capsaicin it burned intensely, and when he tasted it he perceived no burning sensation.

When others perceive flavor differently than you, recognize that they truly taste and smell it differently. No condemnation allowed! Season to taste!

We perceive the world around us differently from others in many ways. One of the ways we differ is in our perception of sensory qualities such as odor, taste, color, texture, etc.

We also differ in the ways we communicate about these perceptions. The language we use to describe our perceptions affects those perceptions. The words you use to describe flavors help you to experience their diversity. Expand your palette, experience new flavors, and season to taste!

Learn more about the Monell Center.

“Smell and taste are in fact but a single composite sense, whose laboratory is the mouth and its chimney the nose.” ~ Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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