Olfaction and taste: Human perception, physiology and genetics

J. H. Swiegers, P. J. Chambers*, I. S. Pretorius

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Drinking wine is a manifestly sensuous experience. Wine stimulates most of our senses; particularly smell (olfaction) and taste, and, to a lesser extent, sight and touch. These sensory inputs interact with the limbic system in our brain which is associated with emotions and memory. Agreeable smells can thus evoke feelings of enjoyment and nostalgia. But how are tastants and aromas detected? Over the past few years a great deal has been learnt about how small tastant and odorant molecules are detected by specific protein receptors located in our mouth and in nasal cavities, respectively. Indeed, we have a vast array of olfactory receptors encoded by a group of genes that represent a significant part of the human genome. Interestingly, many more aroma compounds can be detected and discriminated than can be accounted for by the number of olfactory receptors that are encoded by our genes. Such disparity implies a level of complexity in this system which is not yet fully understood. Sophistication in olfaction is something that winemakers (and drinkers!) have long appreciated, and now scientists are beginning to unravel some of the underlying mysteries. Discovering why some individuals are more receptive to different tastes and smells than others will help wine producers understand variation in consumer preferences between different parts of the world, and possibly capture new opportunities in a changing global marketplace. Given such prospects, this present review offers a timely summary of some key developments in our understanding of odorant and tastant detection. We also consider how genetic components in human olfaction might be utilised to develop a 'biosensor' for aroma detection and discrimination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-113
Number of pages5
JournalAustralian Journal of Grape and Wine Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes

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