The Weirdness of Losing Your Sense of Taste

In early spring I was laid low with bronchitis, accompanied by about three weeks of being able to neither taste nor smell. This has happened to me once before, a few years ago when I had a really aggressive cold. I spent the better part of two months experiencing food only through texture and color. It was actually the worst part of being sick. And it was unsettling too. I wondered what I’d do if those senses never returned.

When you’ve spent your entire life taking for granted that you can eat food and enjoy it—or even NOT enjoy it—it’s a bizarre sensation when those senses take a hike and leave you gauging your food only by the senses of sight and touch. The only positive during those few weeks was saving money eating things like the sub-par pizza that I’d never eat any other time, since I couldn’t taste it anyway. I was eating solely for fuel. Aesthetics be damned! Himself didn’t enjoy this time, either. There’s only so much you can do to make a dish taste appealing when you can’t season it with your usual finesse. (Sorry, Darlin’!)

My taste began to return—gradually. I’d take a bite of food and taste the salt, the sweet, the sour but not the food itself. A bite of beef stew offered up the grain of the meat, the velvety quality of the stew as I make it, the saltiness, and the pepper. But of the “beefness” there was none.

It made me think about the personality of individual foods. What makes an olive an olive, especially considering what’s required to make it both edible and desirable? Why does cheese make a better dessert (in my opinion) than something sweet? Why are artificial flavors so vexing? Tasting an artificially flavored food is a little like seeing someone you love in the crowd, only it’s not really that person. And in fact it’s someone you see littering or breaking in line. Your loved one would never do that! Why is this cherry soda merely “red tasting” and nothing like any type of cherry you’ve ever had? Blehhhh!

Deprived of your sense of taste you feel sorry for yourself, but you can’t whine too loudly about it without sounding like an A#1 First Class Crybaby. After all, it’s probably a temporary condition. For those who’ve lost their sight or hearing, it’s usually a permanent state and much more limiting and life altering.

But temporarily losing your sense of taste helps you gain a newfound appreciation for it. The raspberries in this photo were sweeter and more delightful than I’ve ever known raspberries to be. And a choice bite of epoisses? and roquefort? I went on quite a cheese eating jag in celebration of the return of my sense of taste. And if I ever lose it again, a half dozen choice cheeses will help me celebrate its return!

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