Losing your sense of smell != losing your sense of taste. There’s a reason scientists/biologists have classified smell and taste as two different senses.
TASTE is what our taste buds give us. It refers to the five basic receptors in the mouth: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. You could rip out our olfactory bulbs and we’d still “taste” food. Taste is physically different than smell. It is the result of our tongues receiving chemical information, and we can basically get five pieces of information (the five tastes) about food from taste.
FLAVOR is everything else: it is the combination of every other sensory input that we experience when consuming food. Visual appearance, atmosphere, lighting, sound, music, texture, mouth-feel—and smell. Smell is obviously the big one here. While it too is chemical, smells can give us vastly more information about food than taste can, especially when combined with other environmental factors (sound, texture, and whatnot) and the fact that smell is the sense most closely linked to memory.
So while anosmics can most certainly taste food (or much of it, at least; garlic does absolutely nothing for me and onions are crunchy and nothing else), they miss out on the huge flavor component that smell provides.
Now that I think about it, I might guess that that’s the reason why a lot of acquired anosmics tend to claim that they’ve lost their sense of taste entirely as well—because they’re so used to experiencing food WITH that added flavor component from smell, once they lose that they’re reduced to just “tasting” food, which is likely exceedingly bland in comparison. Whereas the congenital anosmic—like me—has never experienced the extra flavor from smell and thus doesn’t “know” of the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) differences that smell can create. Therefore, for them, most foods are still very distinguishable from one another.
The next article I read that says “anosmics can’t tell the difference between a raw potato and an apple,” I’mma start stabbing fellows.
“Sensonics, Inc. provides the medical, scientific and industrial communities with the best smell and taste tests for assessing chemosensory function.”
I’d love to try their Sniff Magnitude Test to see if anything’s actually registering and I just can’t tell, but there’s no way I can drop $6,000 on…well, anything right now, haha. I’d also like to see what the TR-06 Rion Electrogustometer is all about. I know my nose is shot…how screwy is my taste?
From the site: “The Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation is dedicated to advancing research and knowledge on the effects of smell and taste on human emotion, mood, behavior and disease states.”
Just have a look around, especially at their research studies. Pretty cool stuff.
I wish I could smell, man. That’s another reason why I want to try out the 23andMe DNA thingy…they have an odor detection test of which I’d like to see my results. I’d just like to know at what level my sense is missing. Genetic issue? Brain structure issue? Olfactory bulb issues? “Olfactory bulb to brain” link issue? Something else?
Ah, the mysteries of life!
Maybe I’m meant to work at a dump or a skunk breeding farm or something.
Woah, hey, guess what?
Apparently Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s fame has no sense of smell.
I was unaware of this.
According to the article (forgive me for not referencing it with a link; I copied the text into a Word document but didn’t bookmark the page and now can’t find it in the vastness of the Tubes), “when the company began back in 1978, Jerry would make a flavor and see if it tasted good enough for Ben to notice. Ben also relies heavily on his sense of touch to enjoy food. That is why Ben & Jerry’s is well known for its distinctly chunky ice cream. The chunks of fruit and candy mixed in with the creamy ice cream is designed to provide an enjoyable sensation in your mouth even if you have trouble tasting it.”
Haha, that’s funny…I’ve always liked Ben & Jerry’s best because their ice cream is full of thingies.
So I went to the rec center late this evening, walked to WinCo for broccoli and lettuce, and got home finally around 11:30 or so (I take forever in the grocery store, I have issues). I go around back ‘cause my dad’s gone and the front door is always locked. Not expecting any creatures in the backyard, I turn the corner and surprise! Five skunks just chilling on the concrete. I must have startled them, ‘cause they all turned sharply and stuck their tails in the air like they were ready to spray. Not wanting to deal with the hilarity that would be me getting sprayed by skunks, I very slowly backed away until I was back around the corner from them. Since I couldn’t get in the front door, I picked up a chunk of bark and tossed it in their general direction, hoping to scare them away from the back door long enough for me to get inside.
It worked. And now all is well.
I honestly don’t know what I’d do if I got sprayed by a skunk. The scent does nothing to me, even in such close contact (our idiot dog got sprayed a few years back and I had to clean her), so I’d have to find a neighbor or some kind soul willing to odor test me to make sure I could get all the stink off.
Very glad that didn’t happen, haha.
Smell has long been explained by the “lock and key” hypothesis, which holds that we smell when odor molecules—each with a particular shape—“lock” into matching smell receptors in the nose. What’s the problem with this hypothesis? The fact that there are only a few hundred of these receptors in the human nose, yet humans are able to detect thousands and thousands of different odors.
So how exactly do we smell, then?
Researchers at MIT are looking now at the role vibration plays in our ability to sniff stuff out. They believe that the reason certain odor molecules can have similar structures (like vodka and rotten egg odors, apparently), they have radically different vibration properties, which may be the key to our being able to differentiate between so many different odors with so few receptors.
The MIT scientists performed experiments with fruit flies in which the flies were placed into a maze into which two nearly identical odor molecules were pumped. Despite the molecular similarities, the flies showed preference to one odor over the other, indicating that they could tell a difference between the odors—a difference the scientists say is due to different vibration patterns.
While this study doesn’t apply to humans necessarily (obviously), the scientists are looking to extend its results to tests with mammals.
Because I’m me, I wonder how figuring out how smell really works would play into treatment for anosmia and parosmia. If at all. You never know, biology is weird.
So apparently neurobiologists have genetically altered mice to smell light (MICE CAN SMELL PHOTONS NOW BUT I’M STILL STUCK WITH NOTHING, WTF?) with the goal to better understand how olfaction really works.
The reasoning behind this is that, while odors are obviously the best means by which to study olfaction, the odors themselves are so complex that we’re usually left with more problems than answers. Light, on the other hand, makes things easier.
So these scientists “made the nose act as a retina” in order to better characterize the patterns of activation within the brains of the rodents.
What did they find out?
First off, they found out that the structural patterns of olfactory activation in the brain does not on its own describe exactly how olfaction works.
Second, apparently the timing of the “sniff” plays an important role in how odors are perceived. Weird.
Anyway. Because I’m biased I do a disproportionate number of TWSBs on smell. And solar flares.
Today’s song: Circus by Britney Spears
Social science counts for these, but only sometimes.
I found this study today in which they concluded that extraverts have higher activity in their brains when smelling pleasant odors than those who do not self-report being extraverts.
Positron emission tomography (PET) was used to get images of participants’ brains (particularly the regional cerebral blood flow, or rCBF) as they were exposed to pleasant and unpleasant olfactory stimuli. Following this, participants completed the NEO Five-Factor Inventory, the results of which the researchers examined to see which participants were self-reported extraverts and which were not. The goal of the study was to see if there was an association between extraversion and rCBF, mainly because many psychologists feel that extraversion as it is currently defined is not the best way to describe exactly what it entails, as previous studies have shown that it more fundamentally represents a trait related to a bio-behavioral approach system that controls motivation.
So the study showed what they were looking for—higher extraversion scores were associated with greater activation in the amygdale and occipital cortex when exposed to pleasant odors. The authors also stated that the difference between how extraverts and introverts respond to such stimuli may also suggest that depression may be associated with decreased activation in certain parts of the brain (like the amygdale) when exposed to certain stimuli, since extraversion is negatively correlated with depression and other depressive disorders (I find this connection a bit fuzzy, but okay, sure).
And, you know, self-reported scores are always a little bit iffy, but whatev. I thought it was an interesting study.
Today’s song: Heather (Radio Edit) by Samin
One of the problems with not having a sense of smell is not being able to tell when perishable things go bad. If it’s not moldy or showing some other visible sign of expiration, I can’t tell, especially with dairy products.
This was proven today when I poured a glass of milk that was very disgustingly chunky. Turns out its “use by” date was May 9th. I used it last night (before it decided to go chunky) and it tasted just fine to me. And the feta I put on my pasta? Yeah, that expired back in April.
Someone needs to go to the store tomorrow.
And yeah, I know, I know, check the expiry labels. I’m a slacker, what do you want?
Also, more hilarity from 5 Second Films, ‘cause I didn’t catch all the freaking hilarious ones the first time:
(because of the last one, holy crap)
Today’s song: Your Love is My Drug by Ke$ha (I don’t care how trashy she is, this song is pretty great)
A conversation I had today with a soap vendor at the Ren Fair. Don’t know whether to laugh or cry (but I’m laughing as I’m typing this). Not verbatim, obviously, but pretty close, if I recall correctly:
Soap Vendor Guy: Smell this candle.
Me: No thanks, I can’t.
Guy: Can’t what?
Me: Yeah. I have anosmia.
Guy: What’s that?
Me: Um, it means I can’t smell.
Guy: You can’t smell anything?
Guy: Can you taste?
Me: Most things, yeah.
Guy: Well, how do you know?
Me: I’m sorry?
Guy: How do you know you can taste?
Me: Because I can…taste things…?
Guy: What does bread taste like?
Me: Bread, I guess…
Guy: Try smelling this one over here.
Me: (inhaling) Nope, nothing.
Guy: Wow. So you really can’t smell?
Guy: Here, try smelling THIS one.
I should have just faked it; I’ve been doing that a lot lately. A big deal? Nah. It’s funny sometimes, especially when I get conversations like this one going.
Oh, and here’s some enlightening material for y’all in case you’re interested: