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24 Hours Without Smell or Taste

It was just a stuffed nose. Not even the worst I ever had, as I didn’t yet have to resort to breathing through my mouth. I should have known something was wrong when I couldn’t smell the Chinese herbal medicine I was brewing. I thought, “Maybe it’s just a mild-smelling tea.”

I should have known something was very wrong when I couldn’t… taste… the Chinese herbal medicine. If you are familiar with that black liquid torture, you know it is always extremely bitter and smells terrible. But I (over-optimistically) thought, “Awesome, this one is actually not bad!”. 

About an hour later, I bit into a prime rib sandwich and tasted… nothing. What? Perhaps the flavours were being shy… Bite #2… still nothing?! Not even the tiniest HINT of savoury or salty flavours? I took a bite of my salad (spinach, avocado, and raspberry vinaigrette), fully expecting to at least taste such a strong dressing. Zilch. 


I have never been so confused in my entire life. My eyes were telling me what I was eating, and my memory was telling me it should taste like ______, but my taste buds and olfactory glands were saying, “Nope! There’s nothing to taste in your mouth!” I was merely chewing… texture. I felt the meat fibers between my teeth, the softness of the bread, the smoothness of the avocado over crunchy spinach leaves and strangest of all, the tangy-ness of the vinaigrette, which felt like little air bubbles popping over the back of my tongue. But not the flavour of those foods! Mind appropriately blown.

So this is what people are talking about when they say their nose is so stuffed they can’t taste anything! … I can’t say I was happy about finally understanding this phenomenon.

I just spent a week on a fantastic foodie trip to Montreal with the bestie. I had been fighting a sore throat and slightly stuffed nose the last couple days, attributing it to allergies and/or the change in seasons, but it caught up to me as a full-blown cold the day after I returned. How ironic that after a week of feasting on the most delicious, flavourful food in the city, I would be hit with a full stop on tasting or smelling anything (not even nail polish remover!!). 

In the evening, not wanting to skip out on our pre-arranged housemate dinner, I went out with my roommates for Korean food and decided to try soon tofu, which is a super spicy soft tofu soup dish that I normally can’t handle. “Maybe the spiciness will shock my tastes buds back to life!” was my thought process.

First (slightly apprehensive) bite… nothing. Just soft squishy stuff, with a bit of heat. Interestingly, my body still reacted the way it usually does to spicy foods, with a runny nose and slightly teary eyes. But there was no flavour beyond the heat of the food. The kimchi and spicy cucumber side dishes were merely crunchy, also flavourless. I still felt the burning sensation from the capsaicin, but not the usual searing pain that accompanies my efforts to eat ever-spicier food. All being in healthcare, we agreed that it would be very interesting to conduct a brain scan on me at the moment… were my olfactory nerves even firing?! We also agreed that this would be the PERFECT time to try durian (shudder).

This led to a whole host of questions. What is “spicy” then? Some sublime blend of heat and spices? Is a food still considered “spicy” if it is missing the flavour from the spices? Or the heat from the flavour? What would I do if this loss of smell and taste became permanent? As a self-confessed foodie, a large part of me would die. But on the flip side, as one given to bouts of laziness, I would save a lot of time in ridding myself of food prep, eating and cleaning. I could just live on liquid meal replacements! Alternatively, I could really eat ultra-healthily because I would not need to flavour my food with anything at all, and if everything tastes like nothing, then I may as well eat healthily right?? Ah… the (bleak) possibilities.

Naturally, that line of thought forced me to think about the function of food in society, it’s primary role in bringing people together. I would think most people agree that we humans bond over food. If you have absolutely nothing in common with the person you’re sitting next to, you can at least converse about the food in front of you. And what joy and pleasure food brings us! All major occasions are celebrated with food. And picturing myself in the sad state of sipping on an Ensure at dinner while friends eat delicious food promptly obliterated that brief thought about saving time.

As I write this, my sense of smell and taste is slowly returning to me, and how thankful I am for it! It is like tasting food anew. Though the past 24 hours have certainly been most interesting, I am not keen on repeating it.

What about you, dear reader, if you had to lose one of your 5 senses (touch, taste, smell, hear or see), which would it be and why?

If this were to be my last meal before losing my sense of taste, I would not object! (Our last meal in Montreal, so it kinda was)


One thought on “24 Hours Without Smell or Taste

  1. hehe totally know how you feel.. lost my sense of smell and taste for more than a month .. that was disturbing

    Posted by icebeh | April 23, 2013, 10:18 pm

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