Tobacconist University
Taste College

Taste College: The Human Senses


Smell, also know as olfaction, is the human sense contained in the nasal cavity that detects microscopic molecules released by substances like food, smoke, flowers, and wine. Our olfactory nerve cells can detect thousands of different "smells" that our sense of taste cannot. Without our sense of smell, it would be difficult for our palate (sense of taste) to distinguish between an orange and coffee, or chocolate and vanilla. Ultimately, smell is the sense that reveals the extraordinary qualities of great tobacco, food, wine, and even air. If you don’t believe this, try smoking a cigar with a cold, or cotton stuffed up your nose; just for fun.

Sensory Adaptation

We use our sense of smell constantly, always checking the air we breathe for pollutants, danger, and every other possible stimulus. Understandably, our arousal to a smell is strongest when we first perceive it. After a few minutes, we become desensitized to odors and less attuned to their presence. This process of sensory adaptation is our natural response to a constant stimulus. Our sense of smell acclimates itself to the immediate environment so it can retain its sensitivity to changes. This is exemplified by the strong smell of tobacco we sense when we enter a retail Tobacconist and how that diminishes after a few minutes. Similarly, our eyes and ears adjust themselves to the environment as well. That is why we can begin see things in a dark room after our eyes have adjusted and why we stop hearing ambient noise in loud environments.

Overcoming sensory adaptation while enjoying a cigar or pipe [in a tobacco rich environment] can be done by wafting the tobacco just under the nose to experience an intense dose of our chosen aromas. Ironically, sensory adaptation is also an ally to people who do not like the smell of tobacco, because after a few minutes they will no longer perceive it as intensely. Perhaps this scientific understanding of smell and sensory adaptation will help more tobacco lovers convince their spouses to allow them smoking privileges in the house.*

*Tobacconist University® cannot be held liable for interpersonal disputes regarding or derived from the attempt to negotiate indoor smoking privileges with your spouse, co-habitant, or any other person(s).

Olfaction: Retronasal vs. Orthonasal

We smell in two distinct ways; retronasally and orthonasally; which effects the way we perceive a substance.

Thanks to the connection between our mouth and our sinuses, we can sense odors that originate from substances in our mouth; this is called retronasal olfaction (see retro-haling), and it is particularly critical to the process of eating and gustation. Retronasal olfaction has the benefit of being compounded with our sense of taste, so our sensations and perceptions are synergized.

Orthonasal olfaction involves smelling odors that travel directly through our nose to the olfactory nerves; this can be focused by wafting the stream of cigar/pipe smoke under your nose. Those smells delivered directly through the nose (orthonasal) can be more pronounced and/or nuanced than those delivered through the mouth (retronasal). Ultimately, both types of olfaction are important to experience the complexities and true flavors of great smoke.


Certified R&D Tobacconists: United States

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Jorge Valdes, CRTSabor Havana Cigars
Doral, FL - United States
(305) 436-8860

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James Herndon, CRTThe Man Cave Cigar and Tobacco Lounge
League City, TX - United States
(281) 549-6761

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Daniel Ledwith, CRTTwins Smoke Shop
Londonderry, NH - United States

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