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According to this article on wine tasting:

Did you know that 80% of our sense of taste is actually in our nose?

It doesn't seem to cite any source, although I've heard similar claims before. I've also experienced first-hand anecdotal evidence that holding my nose reduces the sensation of taste when eating. But I've also heard (I can't find sources now) that these claims are largely exaggerated.

What do actual studies say the relationship is between a human's sense of smell and taste?

  • 1
    Also, when you have a bad cold you can't really taste food. – nico Oct 18 '11 at 21:34
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    Note that while a number like "80%" presents a sense of rigid scientific measurement, it is almost certainly completely made up (author Charles Seife calls these "potemkin numbers"). There really is no way to quantify taste due to either smell or tastebuds - the best we could say is that it's due more to smell or tastebuds. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Oct 18 '11 at 22:11
  • Also: See The Drunkard's Walk for more examples like this related to wine-tasting (the author is an avid wine-taster). You'll be surprised how little the ratings printed on wine bottles mean! – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Oct 18 '11 at 22:18
  • @Blue - "hold your nose and eat something". You now owe me an ambulance call fee <g> – user5341 Oct 19 '11 at 0:48
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    Anecdotally my mother lost her entire sense of smell and can no longer taste anything except the basic sweet, salty, bitter, etc. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 19 '11 at 12:07
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It is important not to confuse taste with flavor. Taste is a sense perceived by special cells that constitute taste buds. When most people use the word taste they are referring to flavor, which is a combination of multiple senses.

Flavor is what people commonly call the "taste" of food. It is actually a combination of smell, taste, spiciness, temperature and texture. Much of the flavor of food comes from smell, so that when you are unable to smell you have lost much of your ability to experience flavor. -Source

In interpreting flavor the brain takes into account not only taste and smell, but also touch and heat[1]. With spicy food pain is even a factor for flavor.

So, in answer to the title question, no, ~80% of taste is not in the nose, no amount of taste is influenced by smell. Smell is indeed the primary determinate for flavor. I can't find a specific authoritative source for this, however the claim appears repeated in several reputable sources:

Flavor defines the food that is eaten, and is recognized mainly through the sense of smell.-Source

Researchers say 80 percent of the flavors we taste come from what we smell, which is why foods become relatively flavorless when we're plugged up. -Source

It surprised me to read, when I began my research, that about 90% of what we believe to be taste is really due to smell. -Source

According to Dr Alan Hirsch of the Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, 90% of what is perceived as taste is actually smell. -Source

It seems fair to say that yes, smell accounts for somewhere around 80% of flavor (taste).

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    Thank you for making the excellent distinction between taste and flavor! – Flimzy Mar 16 '12 at 17:48

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