«Chapter 15: The Chemical Senses For a popular science article on taste and olfactory perception, see the recent New Yorker book review ‘Sense and ...»
Chapter 15: The Chemical Senses
For a popular science article on taste and olfactory perception, see the recent
New Yorker book review ‘Sense and Sensibility’ by John Lanchester;
• Rats are 8 to 50 times more sensitive to odors than humans
• Dogs are 300 to 10,000 times more sensitive
• However, individual receptors for all of these animals are equally
• The difference lies in the number of receptors they each have – Humans have 10 million and dogs have 1 billion olfactory receptors Functions of Olfaction
• Many animals are macrosmatic - having a keen sense of smell that is necessary for survival
• Humans are microsmatic - a less keen sense of smell that is not crucial to survive Humans are sensitive to pheromones
• Underarm secretions were collected from 9 donor women
• These were wiped on the upper lips of recipient women
• Results showed that menstrual synchrony occurred since:
– Secretions from the donors taken at the beginning of their cycles led to a shortened length of the recipients’ cycles – Secretions from the ovulatory phase lengthened recipients’ cycles
• Pheromones in the secretions led to the changes, even though the women did not report smelling them (which is probably a good thing).
Humans are sensitive to pheromones Experiment by Kuukasjärvi et al.
Males rated the sexual attractiveness and intensity of T-shirts' odors worn by 42 women.
Males rated the sexual attractiveness of nonusers highest at midcycle.
From Kuukasjärvi S, et al. (2004).. Behav Ecol 15:579–584:
Delivering Odors An ‘olfactometer’ Psychophysics of smell
• Measuring the detection threshold – Yes/no procedure - participants are given trials with odors along with “blank” trials
• They respond by saying yes or no
• This can result in bias in terms of when the participant decides to respond – Forced-choice - two trials are given, one with odorant and one without
• Participant indicates which smells strongest Sensitivity to different odors Mercaptan is the harmless, non-toxic chemical that is added to natural gas to make it easier to detect in case of a leak. The most important thing to know about mercaptan is that it stinks. Some people compare it to the smell of rotten eggs.
Measuring the difference threshold (just noticeable difference) – Smallest difference in concentration that can be detected between two samples – This research must be done with carefully controlled concentrations using a device called a olfactometer – Olfaction follows Weber’s law with a Weber fraction of approximately 11%
• Recognition threshold - concentration needed to determine quality of an odorant
• Humans can discriminate among 100,000 odors but they cannot label them accurately.
• This appears to be caused by an inability to retrieve the name from memory, from a lack of sensitivity.
Is there an equivalent of a color space for odors?
Researchers have found it difficult to map perceptual experience onto physical attributes of odorants.
• Henning’s odor prism (1916) – 6 corners with the qualities putrid, ethereal, resinous, spicy, fragrant, and burned – Other odors located in reference to their perceptual relation to the corner qualities – Unfortunately, Henning’s prism has proven of little use in olfactory research Linking chemical structure to types of smells
• Initial attempts showed difficulties since:
• Some molecules with similar shapes have very different smells
• Some similar smells come from molecules with different shapes Structure of the Olfactory System
• Olfactory mucosa is located at the top of the nasal cavity – Odorants are carried along the mucosa coming in contact with the sensory neurons – Cilia of these neurons contain the receptors – Humans have about 350 types of receptors – Signals are carried to the glomeruli in the olfactory bulb – From there, they are sent to
• Primary olfactory (piriform) cortex in the temporal lobe
• Secondary olfactory (orbitofrontal) cortex in the frontal lobe
• Amygdala deep in the cortex Specificity vs. Distributed coding
Specificity coding: Each receptor produces its own sensation.
Distributed coding: sensations are determined by combinations of receptor responses.
Evidence distributed coding for odor – Proposed by Malnic et al. from results of calcium imaging experiments – Odorants are coded by combinations of olfactory receptors called recognition profiles – Specific receptors may be part of the code for multiple odorants Activating the Olfactory Bulb
• Olfactory mucosa is divided into 4 zones – Each zone contains a variety of different receptors – Specific types of receptors are found in only one zone – Odorants tend to activate neurons within a particular zone
• Specific types of neurons synapse with only one or two glomeruli Activating the Olfactory Bulb • 2-deoxyglucose (2DG) technique – 2DG, which contains glucose, is ingested into an animal – Animal (mouse) is exposed to different chemicals – Neural activation is measured by amount of radioactivity present
• This technique used with behavioral testing shows the pattern of neural activation is related to both chemical structure and to perception.
Taste Basic Taste Qualities
Contrary to popular belief, sensations of different qualities are not localized to specific parts of the tongue.
Tastes can (usually) be described as a combination of the basic taste qualities.
Potassium Chloride Sodium nitrate
• Combination of smell, taste, and other sensations (such as burning of hot peppers)
• Odor stimuli from food in the mouth reaches the olfactory mucosa through the retronasal route
• The taste of most compounds is influenced by olfaction, but a few, such as MSG are not Flavor is affected by blocking the nose.
Adjectives for describing the flavors of Wine Acetic: A vinegary taste fault that results when a wine is excessively exposed to air.
Acidity: A sharp radiance and pleasing quality that naturally enhances wine’s flavor. Wines in which acidity is lacking or out of balance with the fruit and other elements are most likely boring and unexciting.
Aftertaste: The taste or “finish” that remains in the mouth after swallowing a sip of wine. The finer the wine, the longer lingering the aftertaste.
Aroma: The fragrance or smell of a wine, ranging from smoky to herby to flowery and more.
Aromatic: A wine with a prominent aroma, particularly those fragrant with herbs or spices.
Astringent: A quality caused by high tannins that produces a drying sensation of the gums and tongue.
Balance: When a wine's elements, including fruit, tannins, acidity, and alcohol are in perfect proportioned agreement with one another.
Big: Robust or full-bodied in flavor and aroma.
Bitter: A twinge or strong sensation noticeable at the back of the tongue. Usually a taste fault but an attribute in certain Italian reds.
Body: The texture and weight of a wine as perceived in the mouth. A wine may have light, medium, or full body.
Botrytis cinerea: A fungus or mold that grows on ripening grapes, which can produce sweet dessert wines when cultivated properly.
Bouquet: The complex fragrance that develops in fine aged wines.
Brix: A scale of measurement used to determine the sugar content of grape juice and its ripeness and readiness to harvest and begin fermentation.
Brut: A very dry style of champagne or sparkling wine.
Buttery: A rich and oily heaviness in the mouth and buttery flavor that’s found in many oak-aged whites, like Chardonnay.
Chewy: Unusual thickness of texture or tannins.
Clean: The quality of a thin, fresh wine that finishes smooth in the mouth and has nothing unfavorable about it.
Closed: Withheld character common in young, immature, or undeveloped wines.
Complete: A satisfying and mature quality of wine with a solid finish.
Complex: Flavors and aromas that have multiple layers of sensation.
Cooked: A heavy flavor suggestive of prunes.
Corky: A taste fault suggestive of cork or mildew caused by a defective or damaged cork.
Crisp: A clean and fresh characteristic that is sometimes tart, not soft.
Deep: Having layers of flavor complexity that progressively open up with oxygenation.
Delicate: Restrained flavors and aromas that are neither strong nor intense.
Developed: A drinkable and mature quality of wine.
Distinctive: A wine that sets itself apart with refined character qualities.
Dry: A wine that finishes parched or dehydrated in the mouth, not sweet.
Dull: A flat, lackluster wine, deficient in acidity and liveliness.
Dumb: Withheld flavor or aroma common in young or improperly chilled, stored, or aged wines.
Earthy: The pleasant aroma or flavor of moist soil or earth.
Fat: Robust or full-bodied in flavor and aroma.
Fine: A quality wine in terms of flavor, aroma, and overall positive characteristics.
Finish: The aftertaste that remains in the mouth after swallowing a sip of wine. The finer the wine, the longer lingering the finish.
Firm: A well-balanced wine in terms of its structure and components, not soft or harsh.
Flat: A dull, lackluster wine, deficient in acidity and liveliness.
Flavor: The taste or notes found in a wine, which may vary from smoky to spicy to flowery and more.
Fleshy: Robust and ripe in fruit flavor, texture, and aroma.
Flinty: A dry, mineral flavor that’s suggestive of limestone.
Flowery: An aroma suggestive of flowers.
Forward: Full of robust fruit flavor.
Foxy: The distinctive flavors of wines made from native American grapes.
Fruity: A sweet aroma or flavor suggestive of peaches, cherries, apples, pears, raspberries, citrus, currants, strawberries, and more.
Full-bodied: Indicating strong character, in terms of flavor and alcohol.
Green: A tart and fruit-deficient flavor found in wines made from unripe grapes.
Hard: Taut with high tannins.
Harmonious: A perfectly balanced wine in terms of all its components—fruit, acid, and tannin.
Harsh: A negative characteristic describing a bitter, unpleasant, or offensive taste or sensation, usually from excessive tannins or acidity.
Heady: A robust, full-bodied wine that is high in alcohol.
Herbaceous: An herbal aroma or flavor suggestive of herbs, leaves, or plants.
Herby: An herbal aroma or flavor suggestive of herbs like sage, mint, or thyme. http://www.2basnob.com/wine-dictionary.html Honest: The quality of a clean, simple wine that has nothing unfavorable about it.
Honeyed: A flavor or aroma suggestive of honey, often found in late-harvest wines affected by Botrytis cinerea.
Intricate: A wine with subtle aroma and flavor complexities that intermingle Legs: The syrupy remnants that run down the inside of the wine glass after it is swirled or sipped, which indicate the body and texture of a wine.
Length: A long-lingering taste or “finish” that remains in the mouth after swallowing a sip of wine.
Light: Indicating a thin character, in terms of texture, weight on the tongue, and alcohol.
Lively: Pleasingly vibrant, crisp, and fresh.
Maderized: The stale odor and deep amber color that’s found in many aged and oxidized wines, like the whites from Madeira.
Mature: Fully developed and ready to bottle or drink.
Mellow: A soft and smooth quality, not harsh.
Moldy: An aroma suggestive of mold or rot, often found in aged wines or wines affected by Botrytis cinerea.
Muscular: A big, bold, and fruitful flavor quality.
Musty: A stale or pungent aroma.
Noble Rot: See Botrytis cinerea.
Nose: The smell of a wine.
Nutty: A roasty aroma or flavor suggestive of hazelnuts, almonds, roasted nuts, etc.
Oaky: An aroma or flavor suggestive of oak that’s found in many oak-aged wines, often smoky or spicy.
Off-dry: Wine quality that cannot be deemed sweet or dry.
Open: Fully released character common in mature or fully developed wines.
Oxidized: A flat, stale taste fault that results when a wine is excessively exposed to air.
Pétillant: A lightly sparkling quality.
Rich: A full-bodied wine that finishes with a depth and complexity of flavor and an overall pleasing taste and aroma.
Ripe: A mature wine that tastes of fully ripened fruit.
Robust: A full-bodied, big, and heady quality.
Rough: A harsh and unfavorable flavor quality.
Round: A perfectly structured flavor quality in terms of a wine’s acidity, tannin, alcohol, and sweetness.
Sharp: An intense sensation along the sides of the tongue, attributed to acidity or tannins.
Short: A too-brief taste or “finish” that ends abruptly after swallowing a sip of wine.
Silky: A smooth and graceful texture quality.
Simple: Flavors and aromas that have only a single layer of sensation, not complex.
Smoky: An aroma or flavor suggestive of wood smoke and often associated with oak-aged wines.
Soft: Wines that are heady and sweet more than acidic or tannic, not hard or rough.
Solid: A well-structured wine in terms of its components, not soft or harsh.
Sommelier: A professional wine steward.
Sour: An intense acidic or vinegary sensation along the sides of the tongue.
Sparkling: Bubbly wines, like champagnes or sparkling wines.
Spicy: A fragrance or flavor reminiscent of spices like cinnamon, black pepper, clove, or mint.
Spritzy: A slightly sparkling quality, sometimes created when bottling very young wines.
Stiff: See dumb or closed.
Strong: Characteristic of rich, robust, full-bodied wines.
Structure: A wine’s makeup and proportions in terms of alcohol, tannin, acid and sugar.
Supple: A soft flavor and texture quality found in wines that are ready for drinking, not rough or harsh.
Sweet: A ripe and fruity taste quality noticeable at the tip of the tongue, which is usually indicative of residual sugars.