Can humans smell tastants?

Shuo Mu, Markus Stieger, Sanne Boesveldt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Although studies have shown that olfaction may contribute to the perception of tastant, literature is scarce or circumstantial, especially in humans. This study aims to (i) explore whether humans can perceive solutions of basic prototypical tastants through orthonasal and retronasal olfaction and (ii) to examine what volatile odor compounds (VOCs) underlie this ability. Solutions of 5 basic tastants (sucrose, sodium chloride, citric acid, monosodium glutamate [MSG], quinine) dissolved in water, and 2 fatty acids (oleic and linoleic acid) dissolved in mineral oil were prepared. Triangle discrimination tests were performed (n = 41 in duplicate) to assess whether the tastant solutions can be distinguished from blanks (solvents) through ortho- and retronasal olfaction. Participants were able to distinguish all tastant solutions from blank through orthonasal olfaction. Only sucrose, sodium chloride, oleic acid, and linoleic acid were distinguished from blank by retronasal olfaction. Ethyl dichloroacetate, methylene chloride, and/or acetone were identified in the headspace of sucrose, MSG, and quinine solutions but not in the headspace of water, sodium chloride, and citric acid solutions. Fat oxidation compounds such as alcohols and aldehydes were detected in the headspace of the oleic and linoleic acid solutions but not the mineral oil. We conclude that prototypical tastant solutions can be discriminated from water and fatty acid solutions from mineral oil through orthonasal olfaction. Differences in the volatile headspace composition between blanks and tastant solutions may have facilitated the olfactory discrimination. These findings can have methodological implications for future studies assessing gustatory perception using these prototypical taste compounds.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberbjad054
JournalChemical Senses
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2024


  • fatty acid
  • odor
  • olfactory discrimination
  • tastant


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