Can You Taste With a Plugged Nose? How Smell Affects Taste
The flavor of food is a sensory experience that is a combination of taste and smell. We use both our sense of taste and our sense of smell when we eat food. Both the tongue and the nose detect the chemicals in food, which then tells our brain the flavor of what we are eating.
There are about 10,000 tiny receptors covering the tongue. These are called taste buds. Taste buds detect five distinct types of tastes each on a different area of the tongue: salty, bitter, sweet, sour and umami (savory).
Far back inside nose in what's called the nasal cavity resides a small patch of nerves called the olfactory tract. The chemicals given off by foods are picked up by the nerves in the olfactory tract, which then tell the brain what food is being smelled. These nerves also assist in detecting taste.
The nose and the tongue work best together when it comes to enjoying the flavors of food. When the olfactory tract inside the nose cannot assist in the process of detecting the chemicals in food, the taste buds on the tongue are less able to effectively distinguish tastes. The result is that you cannot completely tell the flavor of a food. With the nose plugged and the eyes closed, one cannot tell the difference between an apple and a pear as both have a very similar texture. One would be more likely to distinguish between a pretzel and an apple though as these foods have different, distinct textures. Comparing foods with similar textures with the eyes closed and nose plugged best demonstrates how smell affects taste.