A Tasty Smell

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

But how would it taste?

Salty, Sour, Bitter, Sweet,

That other one, the name

For which I always forget

Until it is on the tip of my tongue:


A savoury taste locked up in

Caramelised meat and veg

And marmite.


The strongest associated odours

Of marmite have been scientifically


(via Nuclear Magnetic Resonance)

to be:

Menthol, Anise, Oil, and Leather,

With sulphur, honey and floral undertones;

Specifically, those of lilac and rose.


Open your mouth and close your eyes,

Hold your nose and try to forget

The names that society has given

To flowers and yeast extracts;

Let your tongue smell the marmite

And tell you that it is no rose.

This is not a synaesthesia of taste,

But simply a confirmation of flavour.

A confirmation of flavour (Photo Credit: Mahdiabbasinv, via Wikimedia Commons).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that the sensors that detect odours in the nose, are also present in human taste cells found on the tongue.

The distinctive flavour of most foods and drinks comes more from smell than it does from taste. Whilst taste (via taste receptors) evolved as a mechanism to help us to assess the nutrient value and potential toxicity of what we put in our mouths, smell (via olfactory receptors) provides detailed information about odour; for example, is it apple, cinnamon, or liquorice? The brain then combines input from these taste receptors (located on the tongue) and olfactory receptors (in the nose) to create the multi-modal sensation of what we call ‘flavour’.

Taste and smell were thought to be independent sensory systems that did not interact until their respective information reached the brain. However, this new research has shown that olfactory receptors can occur on the tongue, and that both sets of receptors can actually occur within the same taste cell (again located on the tongue). This suggests that olfactory receptors may play a role in the taste system by first interacting with taste receptors on the tongue, rather than waiting to be processed by the brain. Future research will now investigate if certain olfactory receptors are tied to specific taste receptors, and what this means for the nature and mechanisms of smell and taste interactions.

An audio version of this poem can be heard here:


2 thoughts on “A Tasty Smell”

  1. I think I am really privileged with this poem. I believe I can call myself one of the happiest scientists. How many scientists were awarded with the poem? I am not sure how much I would be happy if I received the Nobel prize. You will find many people with Nobel prize but not as many scientists with the poem.

    I am honored.

    Thank you very much.


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