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Wake up and Smell the Coffee

There are certain aromas that have an instant effect, freshly baked bread, freshly brewed coffee, a new car... In fact some say that there are supermarkets who pump the smell of fresh bread into store so we not only think we’re buying freshly-baked bread, but we buy more in general as it stimulates our appetites.

But have you ever wondered why coffee never tastes quite as amazing as it smells?

Coffee beans

Speaking at the British Science Festival in Aberdeen in September 2012, Prof Barry Smith, of the University of London, said:  “We have got two senses of smell. One sense is when you inhale things from the environment into you, and the other is when the air comes out of you up the nasal passage and is breathed out through the nose.”

The phenomenon is down to the fact that, although we have sensors on our tongue, eighty per cent of what we think of as taste actually reaches us through smell receptors in our nose.

The receptors, which relay messages to our brain, react to odours differently depending on which direction they are moving in.

“Think of a smelly cheese like Epoisses,” Prof Smith said. “It smells like the inside of a teenager’s training shoe. But once it’s in your mouth, and you are experiencing the odour through the nose in the other direction, it is delicious.

“Then there is the example of when they don’t match in the other direction. The smell of freshly brewed coffee is absolutely wonderful, but aren’t you always just a little bit disappointed when you taste it? It can never quite give you that hit.”

Only two known aromas - chocolate and lavender - are interpteted in exactly the same way whether they enter the nose from the inside or the outside.

In the case of coffee, the taste is also hampered by the fact that 300 of the 631 chemicals that combine to form its complex aroma are wiped out by saliva, causing the flavour to change before we swallow it, Prof Smith added.

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