How we perceive flavors and smells

and which one is in charge after all

How we perceive flavors and smells

and which one is in charge after all
The senses of taste and smell are some of the most important things in vaping. A whole industry has grown around them. Manufacturers of liquids do all they can to surprise vapers with new emotions of flavor.

These senses work the same way in all people. However, every taste gets a huge amount of feedback and opinions. Why is that? Let’s figure out why different people have different reactions to the same liquid.


What is taste? We evaluate liquids using the 'tasty' and 'not tasty' labels. We even call devices tasty if they are good at revealing a liquid’s flavor. Actually, what we mean is not the taste itself, but rather our evaluation of the whole experience.

Taste represents the sensations that occur when taste receptors are influenced. Most receptors are combined into taste buds. They look similar to the buds or pods seen in nature, hidden in the mucous membrane of the mouth and emerging through small openings called the taste pores.

The process is as follows: a substance’s molecules dissolve in the saliva and get in contact with the taste buds. That’s when the taste recognition mechanism is triggered.

We are able to distinguish four or five main flavors and several other sensations that can be attributed to taste. There is one more separate flavor called 'umami'. Blue cheese, soy sauce and walnuts are among its representatives.

Fatty, hot, cool and tart sensations are perceived by the mucous membrane of the mouth and not by the taste buds.

Notably, the sensations one gets from hot pepper and from menthol are inherently opposite, as the former affects the warm receptors, while the latter affects the cold ones.

Flavor and vapor

Both glycerin and propylene glycol taste slightly sweet. That’s why any non-nicotine liquid will have a sweet taste. Why the non-nicotine liquids specifically? Because nicotine is bitter.

Glycerin’s name actually comes from the Greek word glukeros, meaning 'sweet'.

What about everything else? One liquid can resemble jam, another — a fruit drink, a third one is like freshly squeezed juice, and a fourth one is exactly like the cookies your grandma used to bake 15 years ago. The reason lies in olfaction.


It’s pretty much the same case with olfaction as with taste. Only here the receptors are located in the back of the nasal cavity. As a matter of fact, we couldn’t count more than ten flavors and similar sensations, whereas the number of distinguishable smells exceeds a trillion!

Smell receptors in humans occupy only 2−4 square centimeters.

When a combination of smells gets to the receptors, an accord of stimulated receptors is activated. This accord is sent to the brain where it is processed. It’s worth noting that receptors don’t recognize each individual smell molecule, but rather search their structure for constructs that are "familiar" to every group of receptors. That’s how artificial flavors work, mimicking natural ones.

The sense of smell is one of the first senses that developed in mammals and was closely related to emotions. Nowadays, many smells acquire an emotional reaction based on the way they are first remembered by a person.

The smell receptors' sensitivity decreases with prolonged influence. Vapers know the feeling when a liquid stops delivering its bright taste, and instead exposes the notes that used to be in the background. In this case a break for a couple of hours and a change of liquid will help.

At times, the nose can’t sense smells as well after a lot of highly flavored liquid. This calls for more extreme measures. Try vaping base liquid with a few drops of cooling agent for a couple days. As we’ve established, menthol isn’t perceived through olfaction, which means that your receptors will be able to take a break and recover.

What to do

How to choose liquid properly? If you smell the bottle, you get one thing, and if you vape it, you get something different. This happens because the more volatile flavors will inevitably run the show when the smell is evaluated from the bottle. Meanwhile, when vaped, the stuffy, heavy leading flavor you smell from the bottle can be a barely noticeable tint somewhere in the background, which complements the composition instead of overshadowing it.

One mustn’t completely rely on advertising slogans, friends' advice, or even their own nose. The only way you can get a real idea of whether you will like the liquid or not is vaping it for a couple minutes.

Try a lot of different things, find what’s best for you — this is the only completely honest advice anyone will ever give you.
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