November 1, 2017

By FEMA Staff

Think about the last time you had a cold with a stuffed up nose, limiting your sense of smell, and you tried to eat your favorite food. Didn't quite taste the same did it?

The nose heavily contributes to the flavor experience. According to Dr. Gordon Shepherd, the tongue can only sense five or six different tastes while the nose knows literally thousands of different scents. The majority of the “flavor” we experience comes from our sense of smell. This flavor sensation is known as neurogastronomy.

What is neurogastronomy?

Neurogastronomy refers to the way the brain creates the sensation of flavor and taste. In his book Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor, and Why It Matters, Dr. Shepherd, a neuroscientist and professor at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., claims the experience of flavor engages the brain more than any other behavior. And contrary to common belief, people experience a lot of flavor based on scent.

Without getting too technical, much of the flavor we taste actually comes from retronasal smelling, or the scent from aromas in food migrating up the nasal cavity. Dr. Shepherd explains that the scent we smell while eating provides as much of the flavor we taste as the act of chewing and sipping provides.

Do the taste and scent of flavors really have an impact on the brain?

One example outlining the connection between flavor and the brain involves a study of alcohol consumption. The study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology found the brain releases a chemical called dopamine to trigger feelings of happiness before the alcohol enters the bloodstream. Reward-driven behavior is greatly impacted by the amount of dopamine released in the brain during certain activities.

What does this mean? Simply put, the way we experience flavor is largely based on our brain’s reaction, which is greatly impacted by our sense of smell and taste.

Photos courtesy of

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States (FEMA) was founded in 1909 and is the national association of the U.S. flavor industry. FEMA’s membership is comprised of flavor manufacturers, flavor users, flavor ingredient suppliers, and others with an interest in the U.S. flavor industry. The association is committed to ensuring a safe supply of flavor ingredients used in foods and beverages enjoyed by billions of men, women, and children around the world.