Correlation between threat and odour, taste

Correlation between threat and odour, taste

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Is there any sort of correlation between threat and taste/smell? Are we evolved such that things which are harmful to life taste and /or smell bad and things(food) which are useful to us taste, smell good? How far this conjecture correct?

The compounds that smell bad to us are often the same ones produced by the anaerobic metabolism of bacteria, such as hydrogen sulfides or butyric acid. These types of compounds are the ones that make excrement and rotting food smell bad, and if something is giving is giving off a lot of them it's a pretty good signal to not put it in your mouth. Vomit also has quite a lot of butyric acid in it, so we may be particularly sensitive to it.

Plants produce toxic compounds to stop herbivory, many of them taste bitter. Alkaloids are often toxic and uniformly bitter, terpenoids are another example.

There's nothing obviously different from a chemical perspective in chemicals that smell bad. Butyric acid is just a 4 carbon chain with a couple of oxygens on the end and reeks, while the compound propanediol (which is 4 carbons with an oxygen on each end) is used in deodorants. If a compound has a strong smell or taste to us, it is because that compound has been important to us during our evolution. That doesn't mean it's a perfect indicator; cheeses can stink and be totally edible, but that's because the compounds in that cheese usually are a sign of something dangerous.

Tobacco Influence on Taste and Smell: Systematic Review of the Literature

Introduction  In Brazil, estimates show that 14.7% of the adult population smokes, and changes in smell and taste arising from tobacco consumption are largely present in this population, which is an aggravating factor to these dysfunctions.

Objectives  The objective of this study is to systematically review the findings in the literature about the influence of smoking on smell and taste.

Data Synthesis  Our research covered articles published from January 1980 to August 2014 in the following databases: MEDLINE (accessed through PubMed), LILACS, Cochrane Library, and SciELO. We conducted separate lines of research: one concerning smell and the other, taste. We analyzed all the articles that presented randomized controlled studies involving the relation between smoking and smell and taste. Articles that presented unclear methodologies and those whose main results did not target the smell or taste of the subjects were excluded. Titles and abstracts of the articles identified by the research strategy were evaluated by researchers. We included four studies, two of which were exclusively about smell: the first noted the relation between the perception of puff strength and nicotine content the second did not find any differences in the thresholds and discriminative capacity between smokers and nonsmokers. One article considered only taste and supports the relation between smoking and flavor, another considered both sensory modalities and observes positive results toward the relation immediately after smoking cessation.

Conclusion  Three of the four studies presented positive results for the researched variables.

How does the way food looks or its smell influence taste?

In a classic experiment, French researchers colored a white wine red with an odorless dye and asked a panel of wine experts to describe its taste. The connoisseurs described the wine using typical red wine descriptors rather than terms they would use to evaluate white wine, suggesting that the color played a significant role in the way they perceived the drink.

Although sight is not technically part of taste, it certainly influences perception. Interestingly, food and drink are identified predominantly by the senses of smell and sight, not taste. Food can be identified by sight alone&mdashwe don't have to eat a strawberry to know it is a strawberry. The same goes for smell, in many cases.

To our brains, "taste" is actually a fusion of a food's taste, smell and touch into a single sensation. This combination of qualities takes place because during chewing or sipping, all sensory information originates from a common location: whatever it is we're snacking on. Further, "flavor" is a more accurate term for what we commonly refer to as taste therefore, smell not only influences but is an integral part of flavor.

Pure taste sensations include sweet, sour, salty, bitter, savory and, debatably, fat. Cells that recognize these flavors reside in taste buds located on the tongue and the roof of the mouth. When food and drink are placed in the mouth, taste cells are activated and we perceive a flavor. Concurrently, whatever we are eating or sipping invariably contacts and activates sensory cells, located side-by-side with the taste cells, that allow us to perceive qualities such as temperature, spiciness or creaminess. We perceive the act of touch as tasting because the contact "captures" the flavor sensation.

Smells also seem to come from the mouth, even though there are no cells there responsible for detecting scents. Instead the sensation of strawberry, for example, depends upon activation of smell cells located at the end of the nasal passage. The information gathered by these cells is relayed to the mouth via a process called olfactory referral.

To demonstrate this phenomenon for yourself, hold your nose and place a strawberry jelly bean in your mouth and chew. You should detect sweetness and a little sourness, along with the hard (and then soft) feeling of the candy. With your nose held, however, you won't notice the strawberry odor. When you let go, though, you allow the odor molecules to travel through the nasal cavity to the smell cells, and suddenly the jelly bean has a strawberry flavor.

Acquiring information related to scent through the back of the mouth is called retronasal olfaction&mdashvia the nostrils it is called orthonasal olfaction. Both methods influence flavor aromas such as vanilla, for example, can cause something perceived as sweet to taste sweeter. Once an odor is experienced along with a flavor, the two become associated thus, smell influences taste and taste influences smell.

Cyanobacterial (Blue-Green Algal) Blooms: Tastes, Odors, and Toxins

Freshwater and marine harmful algal blooms (HABs) can occur anytime water use is impaired due to excessive accumulations of algae. In freshwater, the majority of HABs are caused by cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae). Cyanobacteria cause a multitude of water-quality concerns, including the potential to produce taste-and-odor causing compounds and toxins that are potent enough to poison animals and humans. Taste-and-odor compounds and toxins are of particular concern in lakes, reservoirs, and rivers that are used for either drinking water supplies or full body contact recreation. Taste-and-odor compounds cause malodorous or unpalatable drinking water and fish, resulting in increased treatment costs and loss of aquacultural and recreational revenue. Cyanobacterial toxins (cyanotoxins) have been implicated in human and animal illness and death in over fifty countries worldwide, including at least 35 U.S. States. Human toxicoses associated with cyanotoxins have most commonly occurred after exposure through drinking water or recreational activities.

Cyanobacteria may produce taste-and-odor compounds that cause malodorous or unpalatable drinking water. Cheney Reservoir, Kansas. June 2003. Photo Courtesy of KDHE.

Freshwater and marine harmful algal blooms (HABs) can occur anytime water use is impaired due to excessive accumulations of algae. In freshwater, the majority of HABs are caused by cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae). Cyanobacteria cause a multitude of water-quality concerns, including the potential to produce taste-and-odor causing compounds and toxins that are potent enough to poison animals and humans. Taste-and-odor compounds and toxins are of particular concern in lakes, reservoirs, and rivers that are used for either drinking water supplies or full body contact recreation. Taste-and-odor compounds cause malodorous or unpalatable drinking water and fish, resulting in increased treatment costs and loss of aquacultural and recreational revenue. Cyanobacterial toxins (cyanotoxins) have been implicated in human and animal illness and death in over fifty countries worldwide, including at least 35 U.S. States. Human toxicoses associated with cyanotoxins have most commonly occurred after exposure through drinking water or recreational activities.

"Taste-and-odor producing cyanobacteria Cyanobacteria may also produce toxins that are potent enough to poison humans and animals such as cattle and dogs. Mozingo Lake, Missouri. October 2001. Photo by J. L. Graham.

The cyanobacterial compounds most commonly associated with taste-and-odor episodes are geosmin and 2-methylisoborneol (MIB). Cyanobacteria also produce a chemically and bioactively diverse group of toxins, all targeting fundamental cellular processes and thereby affecting a wide range of organisms. Cyanotoxins implicated in human illness include microcystin, cylindrospermopsin, anatoxin, saxitoxin, and β-methylamino alanine (BMAA) Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Because of potential human health risks, cyanotoxins are currently on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking water contaminant candidate list (CCL).

Cyanobacteria may form thick accumulations in near-shore areas. Binder Lake, Iowa. August 2006. Photo by J. L. Graham

Although anecdotal reports are common, few studies have documented the distribution, occurrence, and concentration of taste-and-odor compounds and toxins in cyanobacterial blooms throughout the United States. In addition, while the general factors influencing cyanobacterial bloom formation are well known the specific factors driving particular occurrences of taste-and-odor compounds and toxins remain unclear. Taste-and-odor compounds and cyanotoxins represent both economic and public-health concerns and resource managers, drinking water treatment plant operators, lake associations, and local officials are increasingly faced with decisions about cyanobacteria that affect public awareness, exposure, and health. Understanding the environmental factors associated with the occurrence and concentration of taste-and-odor compounds and cyanotoxins is key to lake management and drinking water treatment decisions and minimization of human health risks.

Current Studies

"Taste-and-odor producing cyanobacteria bloom in Cheney Reservoir, south-central Kansas. Cheney Reservoir, Kansas. June 2003. Photo Courtesy of KDHE.

Severe taste-and-odor episodes in Cheney Reservoir, a key drinking water supply for the city of Wichita, Kansas, during the early 1990’s prompted water-quality studies to identify and mitigate potential causes. Recent USGS studies have focused on real-time estimation of water-quality constituent concentrations and transport from the watershed and the description of in-reservoir conditions that may result in cyanobacterial production of taste-and-odor compounds. The taste-and-odor compound geosmin, probably produced by the cyanobacterial genera Anabaena, is the likely cause of taste-and-odor episodes in Cheney Reservoir. Continuously monitored variables, such as light, temperature, conductivity, and turbidity have been used to successfully predict when geosmin concentrations will exceed the human detection limit of 10 nanograms per liter (Kansas River

Blue-green algae on the Kansas River.(Public domain.)

Cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae) may produce toxins and taste-and-odor compounds that cause substantial economic and public health concerns, and are of particular interest in lakes, reservoirs, and rivers that are used for drinking-water supply. The Kansas River is a primary source of drinking water for about 800,000 people in northeastern Kansas. The sources, frequency of occurrence, and causes of cyanobacteria and associated toxins and taste-and-odor compounds in the Kansas River have not been fully characterized. The development of an advance notification system of changing water-quality conditions and cyanotoxin and taste-and-odor occurrences will allow drinking-water treatment facilities time to develop and implement adequate treatment strategies.

The OGRL has a USGS approved GC/MS method for the analysis of the taste-and-odor compounds geosmin and 2-methylisoborneol (MIB). In addition, the lab currently analyzes for the cyanotoxin microcystin using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA). Methods are being developed for the LC/MS/MS analysis of cyanotoxins including microcystins, anatoxin, cylindrospermopsin, and β -methylamino alanine (BMAA).


What differences did you qualitatively feel between closing your nose while tasting and not closing your nose. Explain the results in the tables and graphs in terms of whether closing the nose (blocking the sensation of smell) had an effect on taste. What does the t-test say about the statistical significance of this difference in the perception of taste? Is the taste really affected or is it flavor? Explain.

Explain some plausible factors that could have influenced your results. Did you unintentionally or intentionally use other senses other than taste and smell to guess? Put this in perspective and discuss their effect on your results and conclusion.

Feeling hungry? How about some spicy salsa with some salty chips? Or if you're more of the health conscious type, then a tasty snack of tangy yogurt and fresh sweet strawberries might hit the spot. All these foods taste flavorful because the surface of the tongue hosts up to 10,000 specialized microscopic taste buds designed to detect salty, sweet, sour, or bitter sensations. Combined together, their signals send wonderfully distinct messages to the brain so we can differentiate the subtle taste of hundreds of different flavors.

Taste is truly a sensory bonanza, but is it totally limited to the tongue? We know that some things affect taste, and being sick is the most familiar example. We simply do not taste food as well when our heads are stuffy and our noses are clogged. Does that mean smell contributes as much or more to taste as our talented taste buds? In this DragonflyTV video, two students set out to answer this question. Check it out to see how they designed a clever experiment to evaluate the importance of smell on taste. Then read on to find out how to set up a similarly delicious experiment of your own.

Julia, Leah, and Folabi wanted to test volunteers' tasting ability when smell was not a factor, so they set up an experiment where their volunteers tried various food samples with nose plugs on and then with the nose plugs off. They also put real effort into coming up with a truly "blind" taste test. Not only did they ask their volunteers to wear covered goggles so they couldn't recognize the color or look of the food, the young experimenters blended and mashed the samples beforehand to disguise the food's typical texture. Seems like the scientific chefs in the video really understood how to construct a good controlled experiment. They limited the food tests to purely taste and smell and eliminated any additional sensory input via sight.

Julia, Leah, and Folabi discovered that when the volunteers wore nose plugs, their sense of taste was less accurate and less intense than when they tasted the food without the nose plugs. So smell appeared to make a difference. Still, nose plugs didn't completely block all ability to taste. So the students did some research on the anatomy of the nose and mouth and figured out that chewing some foods can get aromas to the nose through the back of the mouth even when the nostrils are closed. Do you think you would find the same results in tests with your volunteer tasters and your selection of foods? Well, write out the grocery list, gather up those volunteers, whip out the blender and find out!

Before you don those aprons and chef's hats, be sure to do a little background research on taste and smell. You also might be interested in knowing how the brain receives and processes information sent from taste buds and the nose. We included a list of terms, concepts and questions in the next section to get you started. You'll see the scientific words for smell (olfaction) and taste (gustation) in the list, just in case you want to expand your search or impress your friends. After you have more information on the subject, you might be inspired to design a slightly different experiment of your own. The Variations section below lists some suggestions for you to consider.

Good luck, have fun, and bon appétit!

Beware the smell of bitter almonds

Could lima beans kill you? Probably not. Lima beans commercially grown in the United States are restricted to two varieties with low cyanide levels.

In murder mysteries, the detective usually diagnoses cyanide poisoning by the scent of bitter almonds wafting from the corpse. The detective knows what many might find surprising — that the deadly poison cyanide is naturally present in bitter almonds and many other plants used as food, including apples, peaches, apricots, lima beans, barley, sorghum, flaxseed and bamboo shoots.

There’s a reason that cyanide exists in all these plants, and it is — to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes — evolutionary, suggests Kenneth M. Olsen, PhD, an assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

Olsen, who studies white clover, cassava and other plants that produce cyanide, says the plants have an ingenious poison delivery system, one that evolution has designed to discourage herbivores from feasting on them.

Due to proper food processing techniques and strict regulations, cyanide-wielding plants pose little threat to the American food supply. But, in Africa, where cassava root has become a major part of subsistence diets, many poor people suffer from a chronic form of cyanide poisoning known as konzo.

How plants make cyanide

The plant stores the cyanide in an inactive form, typically as a cyanogenic glycoside, which is a sugar molecule with an attached cyanide group (carbon triple-bonded to nitrogen).

Apple seeds contain cyanide (not arsenic as people commonly think) but even if the core is eaten, the seeds are likely to pass undigested through the human system.

The cyanogenic glycoside is stored in one compartment of the plant cell and an enzyme that activates it is stored in another compartment. When an insect or other animal chews the plant and crushes the compartments, the two chemicals mix, and the enzyme cleaves the cyanide from the sugar. It’s a bit like breaking a glow stick to mix the chemicals that make the stick fluoresce.

Olsen describes it as “a cyanide booby-trap.”

What cyanide does to poison a person (or the relevant herbivore) is equally ingenious. It prevents cells from using oxygen by binding in its place to the biomachinery that converts food to energy. This causes what is essentially a molecular form of asphyxiation.

And the molecular pathway it blocks is so ancient and universal, cyanide is effective against most life forms, from insects to people.

Why so many food plants contain cyanide

Why do so many food plants contain cyanide? There are two answers, Olsen says. Cyanide acts as a primitive pesticide that discourages insects that feed on plants. The very earliest farmers, selecting plants to bring into cultivation, might have found these “clean” plants particularly attractive. By selecting plants that hadn’t been chewed up by insects, they may have inadvertently selected ones that were cyanogenic.

Twenty bitter almonds will kill an adult, so the nuts aren’t sold in the United States. A closer look at this bottle, however, reveals that almond extract is made from oil of bitter almonds. But the extract includes no cyanide, only a byproduct of the enzymatic reaction that produces cyanide when the almonds are crushed.

But the second and perhaps more important reason is that as plant toxins go, cyanide is a manageable one. The cyanide in apples and peaches, for example, is in their seeds and pits, which usually are discarded.

In addition, Olsen says, even if an edible plant part contains the poison, it is easy to get rid of by crushing the plant then washing the mash. Crushing releases the water-soluble cyanide, which is carried off in the water.

Disabling the genes that code for cyanide production also is straightforward. It took only one genetic mutation, for example, to turn the toxic bitter almond to the benign sweet almond.

“You’ll notice that the oak hasn’t been domesticated,” Olsen says, “and this may be because the poison in that case is not a single compound but rather a broad class of compounds (the tannins) whose production is controlled by many different genes.”

“Many mutations would be required to generate a low-tannin oak. Also tannins are not sequestered in one part of the plant, such as the leaves, but instead are found throughout the plant, so it isn’t possible just to remove the offending part.”

“Squirrels have evolved digestive systems that can handle the oak tannins,” Olsen says. “But tannins definitely discourage acorn consumption by people.”

The problem with cassava

Cassava is native to South America, not Africa, as people often assume. A vase in the shape of cassava roots was made by the Moche people who flourished in northern Peru in the first millennium A.D.

One plant that can deliver problematic amounts of cyanide is cassava, also called manioc, tapioca or yuca.

Olsen, who has studied the domestication of cassava, says that it is native to South America and was imported to Africa by the Portuguese just 300 or 400 years ago. It remained a minor crop until about 100 years ago, becoming important only when soils became too degraded to grow traditional African crops.

There are sweet as well as bitter strains of cassava, but farmers often prefer the bitter, high-cyanide ones, because they discourage insects (and thieves — who avoid the roots that require laborious processing).

People have the ability to detoxify some cyanide if they ingest it slowly and over a long period of time, and if they have sufficient protein in their diet, particularly sulfur-containing amino acids.

The skins of unprocessed cassava roots actually contain sulfur-containing proteins that would help people who eat cassava metabolize cyanide in the root, but the skins are usually removed when the roots are prepared.

Those who suffer from konzo often are subsisting on little other than cassava and may also not be processing the root properly, since detoxification requires an abundant water supply.

Tacked to Olsen’s office wall is a woven palm-fiber basket that looks like a giant Chinese finger trap.

The purpose of this intriguing South American implement, called a tipiti, is to wring the cyanide out of grated cassava. It is also a reminder of the ingeniousness of plants, which are not the patsies animals often think they are, but instead experts in chemical warfare.

'Seeing' the flavor of foods before tasting them

The eyes sometimes have it, beating out the tongue, nose and brain in the emotional and biochemical balloting that determines the taste and allure of food, a scientist said here today. Speaking at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society, he described how people sometimes "see" flavors in foods and beverages before actually tasting them.

"There have been important new insights into how people perceive food flavors," said Terry E. Acree, Ph.D. "Years ago, taste was a table with two legs -- taste and odor. Now we are beginning to understand that flavor depends on parts of the brain that involve taste, odor, touch and vision. The sum total of these signals, plus our emotions and past experiences, result in perception of flavors, and determine whether we like or dislike specific foods."

Acree said that people actually can see the flavor of foods, and the eyes have such a powerful role that they can trump the tongue and the nose. The popular Sauvignon Blanc white wine, for instance, gets its flavor from scores of natural chemicals, including chemicals with the flavor of banana, passion fruit, bell pepper and boxwood. But when served a glass of Sauvignon Blanc tinted to the deep red of merlot or cabernet, people taste the natural chemicals that give rise to the flavors of those wines.

The sense of smell likewise can trump the taste buds in determining how things taste, said Acree, who is with Cornell University. In a test that people can do at home, psychologists have asked volunteers to smell caramel, strawberry or other sweet foods and then take a sip of plain water the water will taste sweet. But smell bread, meat, fish or other non-sweet foods, and water will not taste sweet.

While the appearance of foods probably is important, other factors can override it. Acree pointed out that hashes, chilies, stews and cooked sausages have an unpleasant look, like vomit or feces. However, people savor these dishes based on the memory of eating and enjoying them in the past. The human desire for novelty and new experiences also is a factor in the human tendency to ignore what the eyes may be tasting and listening to the tongue and nose, he added.

Acree said understanding the effects of interactions between smell and vision and taste, as well as other odorants, will open the door to developing healthful foods that look and smell more appealing to finicky kids or adults.

Drinking water from plastic pipes: Is it harmful?

Pipe-in-pipe systems are now commonly used to distribute water in many Norwegian homes. The inner pipe for drinking water is made of a plastic called cross-linked polyethylene (PEX). Are these pipes harmful to health and do they affect the taste and odour of drinking water?

Previous international studies have shown that plastic pipes can release substances that give an unwanted taste and odour to drinking water. It has also been suggested that some of these substances may be carcinogenic.

The aim of the study by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health was to investigate whether leakage products from these pipes are harmful to health and if they affect the taste and odour of drinking water. These leakage products consist of residues of additives used during production to give plastic pipes their desired properties, as well as any subsequent breakdown products.

  • There are no health risks associated with drinking water from PEX pipes
  • A few types of PEX-pipe may cause prolonged undesirable taste and odour if the water remains in pipes over time
  • Although the taste and odour usually dissipate with use, water from two of the PEX types still had an unpleasant smell and taste after a year
  • The level of volatile organic compounds that leaked from new PEX pipes was generally low
  • The level was further reduced with use
  • No correlation was found between production method and leaking products

Ten different types of PEX pipes available in the Norwegian market were tested for leaching products in a standardised laboratory test. The water was in contact with the tubes for 72 hours.

Three different manufacturing methods produce pipes known as PEX-a, PEX-b or PEX-c. These methods use slightly different additives, but this study found no correlation between production method and leakage products.

2.4-di-tert-butyl-phenol and methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE) were two of the most commonly occurring substances detected in the water in the experiments.


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