Kids Ink: Taste is actually smell
Food does taste differently to different people primarily because 90 percent of what we call taste is really smell, says a noted expert in the field.
"There's tremendous variability in the ability to smell," said Dr. Alan Hirsch, a neurologist and psychiatrist who is an expert in the field of taste and smell.
"Gender plays a role -- women have a better sense of smell -- and age, as there's a 1 percent drop each year in a person's olfactory sensations. Beyond that, there are cultural and racial differences."
Many other factors come into play that may make people react differently to odor or taste.
"Things in everyday life affect your sense of smell," Hirsch said. "You improve your senses of taste and smell if you are indoors, in the morning hours, during the summer months, if you haven't eaten recently and even if you are employed. There is a wide range of normal for taste."
On the flip side, about 15 percent of the population has a limited ability to taste and smell -- what Hirsch calls odor blindness.
One of the most remarkable things about taste and smell is the senses can be regenerated.
"It's the only sensory system that you can actually induce receptor activity to enhance your ability to smell," Hirsch said.
He describes sniff therapy, whereby a patient sniffs a particular odor during a three-month period and ultimately develops a detector site for the smell.
Want to keep your senses of taste and smell in tiptop shape?
"Wear your seat belt and quit smoking," Hirsch said. Head injuries caused by car accidents are one of the leading causes of the loss of the sense of taste and smell.
Hirsch, at his Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, uses the sense of taste and smell to help patients with weight loss and to improve perception, sleep and learning.
He has even identified methods to decode lying among teens based on his research in taste and smell. He recently published "How To Tell If Your Teen Is Lying," which provides details about what he calls the Pinocchio sign.
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The Vernon Area Public Library District in Lincolnshire suggests these titles on taste and smell:
• "What Happens When You Use Your Senses" by Jacqui Bailey
• "Follow Your Nose" by Vicki Cobb
• "Yum! A Book About Taste" by Dana Meachen Rau
• "The Mouth & Nose: Learning How We Taste & Smell" by Jennifer Viegas
• "You Can't Taste a Pickle With Your Ear" by Harriet Ziefert