Apr 16, 2021 - Health

COVID-19 smell loss leads to culinary experimentation

Illustration of a silver tray cover opening to reveal a petri dish with a cheeseburger inside

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Home cooks who can't smell have an influx of new recipes to choose from as COVID-related anosmia spurs innovation in the kitchen.

  • Recipes focus on foods with bright colors, contrasting textures and geometric shapes, drawing on senses besides smell and taste to help anosmics enjoy eating.

Why it matters: For people with smell loss or distorted smell and taste (parosmia) — common COVID-related symptoms — coffee is simply hot water, popcorn is "thorny foam," or food smells like literal garbage.

  • For the most part, there’s no cure.

The big picture: At least one cookbook aimed at those with compromised senses has already come out. Another — a book deal that came together pre-pandemic — is in the works, smell researcher and one of the authors Robert Pellegrino told Axios.

  • To get an idea of the types of dishes that could be in the book, think: hot rice with cold chicken, onigiri, juicy omelettes.
  • "You want it to be arousing," says Pellegrino, a postdoctoral fellow at Monell Chemical Senses Center.

Between the lines: There’s evidence that people desperate to regain the pleasures of eating are already experimenting with these methods.

  • New York Times restaurant critic Tejal Rao, who lost her sense of smell due to COVID-19, wrote for the New York Times Magazine about rediscovering her appetite thanks to mala — a combination of chiles and Sichuan peppercorns that creates a buzzing sensation in the mouth. She published an accompanying recipe for spicy and tingly beef.
  • Others have reported dousing their food in mustard and hot sauce, per Eater.

The bottom line: "You don’t know how important sense of smell is until you lose it," Pellegrino said. "It completely takes away the pleasure of eating and socializing at the dinner table."

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