Skip to main content
Text Size: sML

Quick Statistics About Taste and Smell

Taste

Source: Compiled by NIDCD based on scientific publications.

  • Approximately 25 percent of Americans are non-tasters, 50 percent are medium tasters, and 25 percent are "super-tasters."

    Note: An interesting genetic trait is the ability or inability to taste the bitterness of phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) or a related substance, 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP). Some people rate PROP as extremely bitter tasting. These people are referred to as "super-tasters." The proportion of people who are super-tasters, medium tasters, or non-tasters of PROP varies around the world and among different ethnic and racial groups. In the U.S., approximately 25 percent of people are non-tasters, 50 percent medium tasters, and 25 percent super-tasters. Medium tasters and especially super-tasters of PROP have a more intense appreciation of other bitter, sweet, salty, or acidic tastes, which can influence dietary preferences and overall health status.

  • Each year, more than 200,000 people visit a physician for chemosensory problems such as taste disorders. Many more taste disorders go unreported.

  • Most people who see a physician because foods don't taste right are surprised to learn that flavors are recognized mainly through the sense of smell.

    Note: If you hold your nose while eating chocolate, for example, you will have trouble identifying the chocolate flavor—even though you can distinguish the food's sweetness or bitterness. That is because the distinguishing characteristic of chocolate (what differentiates it from caramel, for example) is sensed largely by its odor.

  • Taste cells (along with smell cells) are the only sensory cells that are regularly replaced throughout a person's life span. Taste cells usually last about 10 days.

Top

Smell

Source: Compiled by NIDCD based on scientific publications.

  • One to 2 percent of the North American population report problems with their sense of smell.

    Note: These are the best estimates available from surveys asking about smell ability without the administration of tests. These surveys are likely to underestimate smell loss, since many individuals are not aware of their dysfunction unless it is severe. This phenomenon has been noted in both "normal" populations and in people diagnosed with disorders associated with smell difficulties, such as Alzheimer's disease and idiopathic (of unknown origin) Parkinson's disease.

  • Each year, more than 200,000 people visit a physician for chemosensory problems such as smell disorders. Many more smell disorders go unreported.

  • Women at all ages are generally more accurate than men in identifying odors.

  • Smoking and some diseases or illnesses can adversely affect the sense of smell in both men and women.

  • Smell cells (along with taste cells) are the only sensory cells that are regularly replaced throughout a person's life span.

Top