Olfaction

“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived. The odors of fruits waft me to my southern home, to my childhood frolics in the peach orchard. Other odors, instantaneous and fleeting, cause my heart to dilate joyously or contract with remembered grief. Even as I think of smells, my nose is full of scents that start awake sweet memories of summers gone and ripening fields far away.”

-Helen Keller, The World I Live in, 1908

 

The olfactory sense is the first sense to be developed in utero (in the fetus), and it matures by week 25. The fetus swims in a bath of amniotic liquid and swallows 4-5 quarts of flavored water a day. Newborns have a sharp sense of smell, they can smell odors that we are no longer able to smell. Newborns smell their mother first, and they associate her odor with security. Newborns “see” with their noses and they react to odors through motor, respiratory, and cardiac rhythms.

 

Very young children instinctively use their nose and smell everything they come across. Children between ages 1 ½ and 2 ½ smell and taste anything they can get their hands on, making them perfect candidates for olfactory training carried out in a manner that is entertaining to them.

 

Smell has always been an important sense in our survival, our ancestors used their sense of smell to recognize dangerous situations and communicate with others. Although most of humanity ignores the sense of smell and misses out on so many wondrous aromas the world has to offer, we still use it for basic survival when we recognize the smell of gas leaks, smoke, and spoiled food.

 

The human nose has 400 different types of olfactory receptors. Each receptor is paired with a matching olfactory gene in that person’s DNA. Humans have about 900 genes that can code olfactory receptors, making it possible to detect up to 10,000 different odors. Compare this to the tongue, which has 5 receptors (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami), and the eyes, which have three types of receptors (blue, green, red).

 

You can develop your olfactory perceptions by smelling food and eating food cooked with aromatic plants such as herbs, spices, vegetables, etc. When you associate a scent to a taste and to the visual picture of the food, you record it in your memory. Over time, you can build a library of the smells and tastes of various ingredients. you can also build your library by visualizing smells and being inspired by them. By developing your skills in olfaction, observation, capacity to name scents, your ability to describe and communicate about the sensory aspects of food and eating, as well as the feelings and emotions caused by smells.

 

Anosmia is a total failure of olfaction
Hyposmia is a reduction of olfaction
Dysosmia is a distortion of normal olfaction
Presbyosmia refers to the symptoms of aging and olfactory loss (diminution of mucus secretion, epithelium thickness, and atrophy of olfactory bulb

 

A reduction in the olfactory sense diminishes one’s ability to appreciate foods, perfumes, fresh flowers, and many other pleasures that the world has to offer. This can lead to stress, irritability, and an indefinable lack of security.