The Weird Way The Smell Of Ham Affects Your Sense Of Taste

One of the worst things about coming down with a cold is having a stuffy nose and not being able to fully smell or taste anything. Even just a little bit of congestion can totally throw off your senses. According to Science World, this is because smell makes up 80% of our experience of flavor. That means that when food tastes good, it's in large part because it smells good.

Our sense of smell is a highly evolved bodily process; as Taste Science reports, scent molecules travel to the back of the throat to reach the olfactory nerve, which then signals the olfactory bulb to tell your brain what things taste and smell like. Because the olfactory nerve is at the back of the throat, the aromas from the food you're munching on find their way to the nerve as well, so you're actually smelling with your mouth, a concept known as olfactory referral (via Scientific American). This is what makes taste and smell so intertwined. So what does that have to do with ham?

The smell of ham makes food taste saltier

One of the most delectable culinary experiences is salty food. But that salty flavor doesn't always come from straight-up added salt. Instead, it can come from something called a salt congruent odor, defined by Henryk Jeleń in "Food Flavors: Chemical, Sensory and Technological Properties" as an aroma that "magnifies the perceived intensity of taste." An example of a salt congruent odor, reports Mental Floss, is ham. Some scientists have found that because the brain associates ham with salt, adding ham or ham-like aromas to foods can make the brain perceive them as tasting saltier.

Ham is also known as a "phantom odor" in this context, meaning that even though you're not actually eating a piece of ham, your brain will smell it and taste more intense saltiness. Next time you dig into canned soup, a bag of chips, or another savory snack and detect a thoroughly salty flavor, you may have the smell of ham to thank for that.