The effects of aging on the human sense of smell and its relationship to food choice

Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1993;33(1):63-82. doi: 10.1080/10408399309527613.


Olfaction plays a significant role in the perception of foods. For the most part, taste is limited to sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. The sensory experiences during consumption of complex foods and drinks cannot be constructed from these units. Indeed, much of the taste of a meal derives from olfactory stimulation. Hence, factors that influence olfactory perception should affect treatment of food-related odors. This article initially reviews previously published observations on the effects of age on olfaction and food preferences and then presents the results of original analyses of data derived from a substantial database formed as a result of the National Geographic Smell Survey. Included in the Survey form were topics relevant to the present article. They include the following question: Would you eat something that smelled like this? Two of the odors in the Survey were food related and two were fragrance related. Hence, in addition, we assessed responses to the following question: Would you apply something that smelled like this to your body? Answers were affected in part by the age and gender of the respondent and by the perceived pleasantness and intensity of the odor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Female
  • Food Preferences*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Odorants
  • Smell / physiology*