Confusing tastes and smells: how odours can influence the perception of sweet and sour tastes

Chem Senses. 1999 Dec;24(6):627-35. doi: 10.1093/chemse/24.6.627.


This study investigated the relationship between perception of an odour when smelled and the taste of a solution to which the odour is added as a flavorant. In Experiment 1 (E1) sweetness, sourness, liking and intensity ratings were obtained for 20 odours. Taste ratings were then obtained for sucrose solutions to which the odours had been added as flavorants. Certain odours were found to enhance tasted sweetness while others suppressed it. The degree to which an odour smelled sweet was the best predictor of the taste ratings. These findings were extended in Experiment 2 (E2), which included a second tastant, citric acid, and employed four odours from E1. The most sweet smelling odour, caramel, was found to suppress the sourness of citric acid and, as in E1, to enhance the sweetness of sucrose. Again, odours with low sweetness suppressed the sweetness of tasted sucrose. The study demonstrated that the effects of odours on taste perception are not limited to sweetness enhancement and apply to sour as well as sweet tastes. The overall pattern of results is consistent with an explanation of the taste properties of odours in terms of prior flavour-taste associations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Odorants*
  • Perception*
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Taste / physiology*