Big hats, big smells – this is why you crave all the food at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

A corn dog drizzled with honey and mustard.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a shock to the senses: interesting touches (petting a live animal), incredible sights (fireworks and drone shows), overpowering sounds (a child’s squeals on the tea cup ride) and intrusive smells (Bacon Bourbon Caramel Cheesecake on a Stick, anyone?).

Technically, all smells are intrusive as they breach the nostrils and make their way to the brain. And sometimes, certain smells will lead a smeller to crave a certain food, drink or other consumable substance.

Why do certain smells create cravings inside the body? Dr. Tran Locke, assistant professor of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, works with patients who experience smell loss and other smell disorders.

“Our response to food starts before we take our first bite, and the first part of eating is all about your senses,” Locke said. “Your sight and smell can trigger neural responses to salivate.”

Even the thought of food can lead to salivation and the stomach to “grumble,” initiating gastric juice production to help with digestion, she added.

“For example, just imagining your guilty pleasure food, particularly if you’re already hungry, you will salivate because it’s our brains’ way to prepare us to eat,” she said. “A sight and a smell – all that starts stimulating the digestive process.”

The sense of smell is important because it contains information about a person’s surroundings, and smells can influence the appetite. Walking by a bakery with an open window and fresh cookies may lead a person to desire a little something sweet to eat.

When a person is sick with the common cold or is congested from allergies, Locke said it’s typical for them not to have an appetite because their sense of smell is affected. When a sick person eats, often the  food tastes bland or just “off.”

“There’s a phenomenon called sensory-specific appetite when smells in the environment can orientate your appetite to that type of food,” she said. “That’s why when we’re walking around the rodeo or a fair, surrounded by all those sweet smells, it will make us want something sweet.”

By Julie Garcia

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