It turns out that taking our time to enjoy a meal actually does make it taste better, and a new study reveals how.
A team of researchers has found that the way the back of our mouths are structured allows us to get a strong whiff of our food's aroma, which enhances how we perceive its flavor -- but only if we breathe slowly and quietly.
We may miss out on this enhanced experience if we scarf down our meals.
"It confirms that there is a pathway for volatiles from the mouth to the nasal cavity for stimulating smell while there is food and drink in our mouths, of which we are totally unconscious (we erroneously think it is due to taste in the mouth)," Dr. Gordon Shepherd, professor of neuroscience at Yale University and a co-author of the study, told The Huffington Post in an email. "It provides new evidence to help us understand what happens when we eat and drink."
The researchers built models of a human throat, mouth and nasal cavities using a 3D printer. Then they used these models to analyze how air flows through a person's mouth while eating.
The researchers found that molecules from food, called volatiles, collect at the back of the mouth, where they are carried by exhaled air to the nasal cavity. From there, olfactory receptor neurons in the nose can pick up the scent of the food. When flavors are perceived in this complex way, it's called retronasal smell.
"This mechanism is the strongest if we eat slowly and breathe smoothly," Dr. Rui Ni, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State University and lead author of the study, told HuffPost. "In contrast, if we eat fast and breathe heavily when we are in a rush, we cannot taste much of the food because we are wasting a lot of food volatiles by inhaling them into the lung."
Slowly breathing in through the nose, however, allows air to whip down the nasal cavity and into the lungs, creating a sort of air barrier that separates the throat and the mouth and keeps volatiles out of the lungs, NPR reported. On the exhale, air sweeps into the back of the mouth to carry the volatiles into the nose.
The researchers concluded that the air flow effectively controls the direction and movement of the volatiles.
Or in other words, "food smells and tastes better if you take your time," Ni said in a statement.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on Nov. 9.
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