Volatility. Chemoreceptors. Evolution. And how we have always been very nosey.
Eating is a pleasure of both taste and smell. We enjoy food not only for how they taste on our tongues and mouths, but also for how they smell.
Our sense of smell – known as olfaction – is an amazingly powerful one. It can “detect millions of airborne odorants…in quite small concentrations”. We detect these odorants (essentially volatile chemical compounds) when they stimulate our chemoreceptors or receptor cells – cells that can sense chemical compounds – in our noses (see diagram above). These chemoreceptors then send signals to our brains to identify the smells.
Our keen sense of smell may in fact have played an important part in how humans evolved. According to research reported by BBC Nature, the parts of the brain that first became very large (in proportion to the rest of the body) were those connected to our sense of smell. They suggest that “mammals probably used their keen sense of smell to hunt at night [for food sources active at night], which meant that they could avoid competing for food resources with dinosaurs that shared their habitats”.
Today, we use this keen sense of smell all the time. Whether as cues for cooking, or as aromas to tempt those around the dinner table, or as triggers of wonderful memories, we use it all the time.
We also use our sense of smell to keep ourselves safe. Just recall the many times we thought a food had gone bad because we smelled something amiss. And then imagine if instead of smelling and knowing something had gone bad, we had to taste it first? You could say that we have always been very nosey and that has helped us survive!
What are some of your favorite food smells? Tell us in the comments below!
Like this? Be nosey and like me to discover more. All you need is a minute a day to explore the world’s marvels through the phenomenon of food!
photos: in order – depositphotos/Jim_Filim; edesignua; HASLOO; goceristeski