How would things taste if you lost your sense of smell? It’s a question that has become surprisingly common this year.
Anosmia — or “smell blindness” — is a condition which is thought to affect around 5% of the population. But with loss of smell and/or taste two of the recognized symptoms of Covid-19, this previously little-known condition has come under the global spotlight.
Not only have people been unable to smell or taste while sick with the virus, many people report long-term loss of these senses while recovering.
Dutch cookbook writer Joke (pronounced Yok-e) Boon suffers from anosmia. She lost her sense of smell at the age of four — probably a combination of a severe cold and having her tonsils removed.
Despite this, she has written five cookbooks. So how does someone without a sense of smell experience food? For Boon, it’s mainly with her brain — by employing a facial nerve.
Starting from the ear and branching out in three strands towards your eyes, nose and jaw, the trigeminal nerve is responsible for sensory perception in the face. It’s meant to protect us from danger — stimulated by, for example, smoke and ammonia. But certain food ingredients can also set it off.
“You know the feeling when you eat too much wasabi at once?” says Boon. “I use this nerve a lot to ‘taste’ my food, I play with it. I can also feel ginger, mint, mustard and pepper this way. Pepper and ginger are warm and tingling, whereas mint and horseradish create a cold sensation.”
She says the color, texture and even sound of food have big roles, too.
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