In 2008, a study by researchers at Seoul National University found that simply smelling coffee had a significant effect on wakefulness and energy. The power of the world’s most popular stimulant, caffeine, didn’t actually needed to be consumed—it could work its magic through the air. This discovery confirmed what many have long suspected; “Waking up and smelling the coffee” is an effective way to get the day started, even if you’re not drinking any.
Olfactory: The Strongest of The Five Senses?
The human nose can detect and discriminate between one trillion different scents, according to 2014 study published in the journal Science. Compared to the human ear, which can distinguish half a million different tones, and the eyes, which can pick out several million different colors, this is detection on an entirely different level.
Which of the senses is the “strongest” may be a misleading question; it’s difficult to argue with moments that, for example, combine sight and sound (as a movie or play does) to bring someone to tears, or any other number of emotionally powerful experiences. But it would seem that smell is the most precise, and perhaps the subtlest, of the five. Many studies have shown a strong relationship between smell and the human memory, due to the olfactory bulb’s direct connections to the amygdala and hippocampus, two brain areas that are highly involved in the function of memory. So it may be said that smell has the strongest power to evoke.
Smell And Taste: A Natural Partnership
So why does simply smelling coffee seem so close to the experience of tasting it? It’s likely because, in a way, you are tasting it. The tongue and its taste buds are surprisingly limited in the flavors they can detect—sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami—and they depend on the nose, located just an inch or two above, to distinguish between the millions of subtle gradations in taste that a person might encounter. It’s been shown that seventy-five percent of what we perceive as taste actually arrives at the brain via olfactory nerves, which pick up the odor molecules in food and drink.
A study conducted by Yoshinori Masuo at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Japan, determined that the aroma of coffee affects wakefulness. First, the researchers deprived rats of sleep for a day. Upon examining their brains, they found that the activity level of 11 different genes crucial to brain function had been reduced. Once the scientists exposed the rats to the aroma of coffee, however, nine of the genes were restored to near normal, or even above normal, levels.
While it’s possible that the simple aroma of coffee might be enough to get energized in the morning, there are far too many benefits to coffee to ever want to give it up! It’s healthy and delicious!