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11.49: Taste and Smell

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Why are your senses of taste and smell important?

Imagine you open a gallon of milk, and you suddenly smell a foul odor. Your sense of smell has informed you that the milk has spoiled. So you pour the spoiled milk down the kitchen sink. Your sense of smell has possibly kept you from getting sick!

Your sense of taste is controlled by sensory neurons, or nerve cells, on your tongue that sense the chemicals in food. The neurons are grouped in bundles within taste buds. There are five different types of taste neurons on the tongue. Each type detects a different taste. The tastes are

  1. Sweet.
  2. Salty.
  3. Sour.
  4. Bitter.
  5. Umami, which is a meaty taste.

When taste neurons sense chemicals, they send messages to the brain about them. The brain then decides what tastes you are sensing.

Your sense of smell also involves sensory neurons that sense chemicals. The neurons are found in the nose, and they detect chemicals in the air. Unlike taste neurons, which can detect only five different tastes, the sensory neurons in the nose can detect thousands of different odors. Have you ever noticed that you lose your sense of taste when your nose is stuffed up? That’s because your sense of smell greatly affects your ability to taste food. As you eat, molecules of food chemicals enter your nose. You experience the taste and smell at the same time. Being able to smell as well as taste food greatly increases the number of different tastes you are able to sense. For example, you can use your sense of taste alone to learn that a food is sweet, but you have to use your sense of smell as well to learn that the food tastes like strawberry cheesecake.


  • neuron: Nerve cell.
  • taste bud: Tiny bump on the tongue that consists of bundles of neurons that detect chemicals.
  • umami: A meaty taste.


  • Sensory neurons on the tongue detect five types of tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami.
  • Sensory neurons that sense chemicals in your nose allow you to detect smells.


Use the resources below to answer the questions that follow.

  1. What is the function of the olfactory cortex?
  2. What stimulates the olfactory sensors in the nose?
  1. What covers the surface of the tongue?
  2. What 4 types of sensors can be found on the tongue? Are these distributed evenly over the tongue?
  3. How does stimulation of the taste buds stimulate the salivary glands?
  1. What is a taste pore? What is its function?
  2. What is at the end of the receptor cells for taste?
  3. What does the olfactory receptors have that the taste receptors also have? Can you think of other areas of the body that have similar structures?


  1. What are the five tastes sensed by neurons on the tongue?
  2. Why is your sense of taste affected when you have a stuffy nose?




Nerve cell.
taste bud

taste bud

Tiny bump on the tongue that consists of bundles of neurons that detect chemicals.


Meaty taste.

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Difficulty Level:
At Grade
7 , 8
Date Created:
Nov 29, 2012
Last Modified:
Jun 16, 2016
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