Food for the tongue
May 26, 2010 7:39 AM   Subscribe

What foods are most enjoyable even with a severely diminished or completely absent sense of smell (anosmia)?

Asking for a friend who recently lost her sense of smell.

I would imagine (and answers to previous related questions suggest) that dishes where textures and the basic tastes (salty, sweet, etc.) are emphasized would be prime candidates, but I'd like to hear about any specific recommendations you might have.  Relatively healthy things (i.e., not junk food) are a big plus. Thanks!

(This is sort of the opposite of this previous question, which— while it has a few useful anecdotes— has a very different focus.)
posted by caaaaaam to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Unfortunately, for the "healthy" idea, friend of mine with complete anosmia reports strongly disliking vegetables, to the point where he would pick small bits of parsley off dishes before eating them. He told me at one point that his favorite food was a morrocan dish of ground beef with cinnamon wrapped in phyllo or warka.
posted by novalis_dt at 7:54 AM on May 26, 2010

I googled "best foods for anosmia" and found this post on an anosmia blog. The examples are all pretty healthy.
posted by spinto at 8:03 AM on May 26, 2010

I have a friend with this and she finds peanuts and peanut butter enjoyable. So maybe dishes with that. Thai, perhaps?
posted by SLC Mom at 8:17 AM on May 26, 2010

Best answer: My grandmother had anosmia, and texture was the biggest thing for her (and also the basic flavors). She liked things that were very sweet or very salty, and things that combined crunchy + creamy textures: she was a big fan of celery sticks in french onion dip or in peanut butter, for example. She also liked things like milkshakes or smoothies. Apart from raw veggies and dip, she also hated most vegetables -- the only way we could get her to eat any veggies at all was to either give her raw veggies and dip, or to make gazpacho, which she also loved. Also, the whole "basic tastes" thing really depends a lot on whether you like the basic tastes in the first place: for example, Grandma wouldn't eat anything that was in the slightest bit bitter or spicy, and she didn't like things that were too sour, either.
posted by kataclysm at 8:26 AM on May 26, 2010

An acquaintance of mine with anosmia claims that she could eat nothing but avocados and hot dogs.
posted by pullayup at 9:47 AM on May 26, 2010

Best answer: I had a friend with this problem. He said he like things that had interesting textures, but more importantly, he really valued temperature. So he liked foods that were either icy, chilled, or warm like soup, over room-temperature foods.
posted by egeanin at 9:57 AM on May 26, 2010

Best answer: I died from heart attacks, was dead a long while without oxygen, one thing I lost is my sense of smell. Which is the sense I'd have chosen to lose, were I given a choice -- I could just as easily been blinded or deaf. Anyways ..

Spicy -- I'd come to love hot and/or spicy (jalapeño peppers, habeñero peppers, lots of cilantro, etc) since I've lived in Texas anyways, but this anosmia thing absolutely upped the ante.
Sour -- ie lemons, food that bites into my tongue, liked it before but this has upped the ante, as with spices.
Fat. This sounds weird probably but avocados etc just taste great. They always did but moreso now, how it melts on my tongue or whatever it is that it does. Olive oil the same, though it has a tang to it.

So. I'm lucky to live in Austin -- Texican-Mexican central. Indian food, you bet. Thai, absolutely. Korean -- we've a sweet little Korean restaurant here in town, most every dish comes with sides of every sort of texture and temperature and spice -- it's very good. Salads with olives and -- duh -- olive oil and feta cheese and onions and all the rest: Give me salad or give me death! or something. (Strangeness -- I can't smell onions anymore but they surely do make my eyes water when I'm cutting them.)

As I write this here, it's coming clear to me that what I liked before I still like, but maybe more the extremes of it, the subtleties out the door, gotta hit me with a hammer now. Perhaps your friends experience will be similar to mine.

I miss -- terribly -- the smell of rosemary, and the smell of cooking with rosemary. And roses. And babies. Puppies breath. Women. Bread baking. The fresh before rain, and right after. It goes on...
posted by dancestoblue at 11:01 AM on May 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't have complete anosmia, but I have come to have a limited sense of smell over the last 20 years. (Think of me as the olfactory equivalent of someone with huge, thick Coke bottle glasses.) One thing that seems to be true for me is that with few exceptions, any food/drink experience that depends on really subtle differences or contrasts is just lost on me. I can't tell the difference between a $5 bottle of wine and a $5000 bottle of wine. I can tell Sanka from $8/lb. coffee, but not $8/lb. coffee from $30/lb. coffee.

What I tended to do was go for bolder flavors, and generally hotter food. In particular, Indian food is the one I've found most widely available and having the broadest range of things I can still pick up on and enjoy. You have to have a strong palate for this, but if your friend likes it hot, ask for the hottest version they make. Even a polite, "Can you make me one like you'd have it?" to an Indian server works sometimes. The hottest meal I ever had was at an Indian restaurant in Catonsville, MD, where I asked the waiter something like that and he brought me... well, it. "This is what vindaloo actually means," he told me. Unimaginably hot, but every flavor as clear as day and balanced into something subtle and enjoyable. It wasn't busy that night and he told me all kinds of interesting stuff. I have never had as much luck with Mexican food, either at big chain restaurants or at little mom-n-pop places. Same for ostensibly Chinese restaurants, which I gather are fairly far removed from actual Chinese cuisine; maybe something more high-end would be better. Thai food has been a little better, though I have also tended to gravitate towards it because it has better meatless options than other types of restaurants.

Very general, I know, but if your friend doesn't have a lot of experience with Indian food, it might be a reason to try something new.
posted by el_lupino at 11:18 AM on May 26, 2010

Another way to look at this might be what foods smell really bad, so much so that most people won't eat them due to the odor. This could be your friends chance to try some durian or limburger.
posted by travis08 at 11:39 AM on May 26, 2010

I have complete anosmia (with the lone exception being some BBQ and wing sauces). I love to eat and I love any kinds of food. The first thing people say to me when I tell them I can't smell is "Oh, so you can't taste anything?" I don't even understand the connection between the two - I guess it's like trying to explain colors to a blind person.

My only thought is that maybe I don't get the subtle things - like the poster above mentioned with comparing high quality wines and coffees with a lower quality product.

Maybe other people are different, but I can tell you from my experence, that I love food, and all kinds of food and seem to like it as much or MORE than people who can smell. Also, it seems that foods which most people think are "really good", I do too...the same with something that is "really bad".

Interesting thread, I'll look forward to reading any more posts that come in on this.
posted by rex quan hasslehoff at 1:01 PM on May 26, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your suggestions, stories, and reflections so far! This is all very helpful, and I appreciate your taking the time to share.

I'm going to leave this as unresolved for a while longer in hopes that more people might stumble in.

rex quan hasslehoff— I'm curious, if you don't mind my asking: is your anosmia congenital? (Perhaps that was implied when you said, “I guess it's like trying to explain colors to a blind person,” but I just wanted to clarify.) Wikipedia claims that “patients with sudden onset anosmia may find food less appetizing, though congenital anosmics rarely complain about this.” This is a very interesting distinction.
posted by caaaaaam at 2:01 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes mine is congenital. That *is* interesting I agree.
posted by rex quan hasslehoff at 11:42 AM on May 27, 2010

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