Ontogeny of taste smell and flavor perception

Flavor as an attribute of foods and beverages, is an integration of multiple sensory inputs including taste and retronasal olfaction in the oral and nasal cavities. Emerging scientific research reveals that the taste and olfactory systems are well developed before birth (see [32] for review). The apparatus needed to detect taste stimuli make their first appearance around the 7th or 8th week of gestation, and by 13 to 15 weeks, the taste bud begins to morphologically resemble the adult bud, except for the cornification overlying the papilla [33]. Taste buds are capable of conveying gustatory information to the central nervous system by the last trimester of pregnancy, and this information is available to systems organizing changes in sucking, facial expressions, and other affective behaviors.

Likewise, the olfactory bulbs and receptor cells needed to detect olfactory stimuli have attained adult-like morphology by the 11th week of gestation. Olfactory marker protein, a biochemical correlate of olfactory receptor functioning in fetal rats [34], has been identified in the olfactory epithelium of human fetuses at 28 weeks of gestation [35]. Because the epithelial plugs that obstruct the external nares resolve between gestational weeks 16-24, there is a continual turnover of amniotic fluid through the nasal passages, such that by the last trimester of pregnancy, the fetus swallows significant amounts of amniotic fluid, and inhales more than twice the volume it swallows. Even in air-breathing organisms, volatile molecules must penetrate the aqueous mucus layer covering the olfactory epithelium to reach receptor sites on the cilia. Thus, there is no fundamental distinction between olfactory detection of airborne and waterborne stimuli.

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