Taste cells in the tongue contain the same smell receptors as those found up our noses, researchers say.
The findings suggest that the main components of food flavour, taste and smell, work together on the tongue, rather than being first combined in the brain.
The researchers were inspired to investigate whether human tongues could smell by snakes, which are known to sniff at the air by flicking out their forked tongues.
By learning exactly how the sensation of flavour is created, the experts say, we may one day develop taste-modifying agents to help combat diet-related diseases.
Now, researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and the New York University have used genetic and biochemical methods to study human taste cells grown in a dish.
The researchers found that human taste cells contain many of the same key molecules as found in olfactory (smell) receptors in our noses.