14 August 2008

Smell & Taste

I'm happy to report that I will be joining the ranks of mid-Atlantic commuters... by starting a new job! I'll be working in fragrance development / evaluation with a great company, and I'm really, REALLY excited about this opportunity. Planning to stock up on audiobooks to make the commute more entertaining.

Recently I learned some interesting facts about smell and taste from Audiodigest's Family Practice CDs:

  • "Taste information does not go through the medial temporal nerve and hypothalamus [unlike smell, so] the emotional aspect of taste is not as strong as that of smell." Even though rocky road ice cream may transport you to childhood, it won't do so as effectively as your mother's old perfume. It's interesting to learn that it's all because of the way our brains are wired and which nerves go where.
  • Possible / potential causes of smell disorders: vitamin B12 deficiency, zinc deficiency, low thyroid function, cigarette smoking and yes, even alcohol consumption. Alcohol was shown "to produce smell impairment in 50%" of cases because of toxicity to the temporal lobe and other structures involved in smell and taste. Cut back on cough medicine to smell the roses!
  • And, it's now generally accepted that there are 5 senses of taste: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami, which refers to MSG and savory broth flavors often found in Asian cooking.
  • As we age, sweet and salty flavors are the first to go.
  • Most interesting is the fifth cranial nerve which allows us to detect texture, temperature, and "spice sensations."

I wonder if people who like spicy foods have less active or less sensitive fifth cranial nerves. I love the flavors of salsas and other hot mixtures, but often find them too spicy to enjoy. Perhaps alcohol impaires the fifth cranial nerve. That could explain why spicy Mexican food goes well with good tequila! And also why Mexican food is such a delight: a Margarita offers cold, sweet, and sour. Chicken mole offers spice and possibly umami. Cold but spicy salsa sends the cranial nerve for a loop, and it's all topped off with smooth, cold, sweet, creamy flan. Nothing like a good meal to get your brain in high gear.