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Jean Anthelme Brillat‐Savarin, an eighteenth-century gastronomist wrote “smell and taste are in fact but a single sense, whose laboratory is the both and whose chimney is the nose” Gustation, or how we perceive taste, is a combination of both smell and taste. To understand gustation, one must first recognize the relationship between taste buds, the olfactory system, and how we perceive taste and smell in the brain and to understand there is a difference between taste and flavor.
Taste is the sensation originating from the oral cavity, while Flavor is the combination of odor and taste. In addition to the molecules that signal to our gustation and olfaction senses, flavor is influenced by other inputs called “somatosensory sensations.” Somatosensory sensation is a complex contribution of sensations including temperature, pain, and the density of food (pressure sensors). Thus how we perceive food and drink is much more complicated than what food hits our tongue.
To best understand the process of flavor, we should follow the path from food flavor molecule to the brain. Flavor formally initiates when a small molecule (tastant) escaping from our food and drink binds to a protein receptor on the surface of one of two specialized cells: a taste receptor cell (TRC) or olfactory nerve fibers sending the signal perceiving flavor to our brain.