October 1, 2014

Maybe you don't like vegetables because you've got the taste receptor gene TAS2R38, which binds tightly to bitterness.

People who don't have it experience a sweetness in vegetables... and also eat a lot more vegetables.  And "people who were sensitive to bitter ate fewer of all kinds of vegetables, not just bitter, cruciferous ones." The seem to "generalize" their dislike of bitter vegetables to all green vegetables.
So, does an aversion to bitter tend to be lifelong?... And then, in older age, as smell and taste perceptions begin to fade, the taste of bitter foods can seem much less intense.
I have a major loss of taste and smell. I am nearly taste and smell blind, and I don't think this is similar to the genetic impairment of bitterness alone, which supposedly leaves vegetables tasting really good. For these people, the other flavors shine through.

For me, with almost no taste, I'm experiencing mostly texture and temperature, and it turns out that foods that were always bland provide the most satisfying tactile experience, because that's mostly all they ever were. But highly flavored food rely on flavor for their attraction. They were designed around flavor. Take away flavor and what do you have? Something inexplicable. Something no one would have concocted, like an abstract expressionist painting viewed by a person who is colorblind. I'd steer the colorblind person to the analytical cubist paintings. So give me the cubism of food. What is that?


Braque, "Bottle and Fishes."

ADDED: Holy fuck: "Your nose knows death is imminent/Losing the sense of smell predicts death within five years, according to new research." John Hawks provided that link in the comments.

59 comments:

HoodlumDoodlum said...

If you have a sense of the acidity level or "brightness" of foods there's a lot to explore in that area. Otherwise I think you're left with just texture, and although a lot of the molecular gastronomy techniques use texture as an element (foams, emulsions, "caviar," etc) I don't know if those will really deliver if you ignore the taste component.

rhhardin said...

There's a blind swordsman in Dinner for Schmucks (very funny dvd) who volunteers that he likes to paint.

Q: Are you any good?

A: I don't know.

Julie C said...

How about fried chicken and mashed potatoes? Two contrasting textures there.

Accompanied by roasted Brussels sprouts tossed with balsamic vinegar, a little honey and some crispy bacon.

Dessert: Pumpkin pie (baked by me)


Bob Ellison said...

Does that gene also inhibit the natural distaste for modern jazz?

Ann Althouse said...

"How about fried chicken and mashed potatoes? Two contrasting textures there."

Yes! That is exactly what I'm talking about.

Batter fried stuff, which must be freshly done and hot, is the best thing for me. Also french fries.

I'm doing okay with apples. I can enjoy a turkey sandwich on good bread. I'm too reliant on ice cream.

It's a struggle! I try not to get despondent about it… partly by searching for new things that work for me, partly by hoping I'll return to my senses, and partly with old-time comfort foods like ice cream.

Ann Althouse said...

"If you have a sense of the acidity level or "brightness" of foods there's a lot to explore in that area."

I think the basic tongue-based flavor is still working, but that means it's stark and overdone. Sourness is particularly unpleasant to me. I really hate sourness now. I rely on sweet and salty as being the last good tastes I have.

Imagine sour without the aromatic detail, so that balsamic vinegar is like the kind of white vinegar you could clean the stove with.

richlb said...

I taste the bitterness in certain veggies and gravitate towards it. Broccoli rabe, brussels sprouts, certain types of lettuce - all of these have a bitterness that I love. I also drink my coffee black. Some people just like the bitter flavor.

Nonapod said...

Anytime I hear about someone losing their senses of smell and taste I get worried that they might be coming down with Parkinson's. My mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's a couple years after she lost those senses.

Julie C said...

I'm curious Althouse if very spicy food is appealing to you or not. I like to add extra heat to Chinese food or Thai food for example. How does that work with your palate?

The Crack Emcee said...

When my divorce/murder shit went down, I couldn't listen to music with any emotion attached to it. I had to rely on avant garde Jazz and the coldest Techno I could find, just to survive.

If that's what it's like for you, with food, I feel for you,..

etbass said...

Very sorry to learn of your tasting deficiency. Had never heard of such a thing but it would seem particularly depressing, especially if you previously had normal tasting.

Hope it is not permanent.

boldface said...

I can just see the headlines now: "Blogger Ann Althouse Admits She Has No Taste."

SayAahh said...

Olfaction represents at least 75% of our sense of taste. Loss of sense of smell (anosmia), or a diminished sense of smell (hyposmia), or a perverted sense of smell (parosmia) is very disabling. It, unfortunately does not receive the attention our other loss of senses command.
More commonly it invokes ridicule i.e. "you can't smell that?...gosh are you lucky!" and other inane and insensitive comments.

Dietary changes inevitably accompany anosmia. Weight gain, and alternatively loss, are not uncommon. Hazards include not being able to detect the presence of smoke, spoiled foods, and leaking gas among others.

Ann, hopefully you have had a complete olfactory work up including smell tests, lab work and appropriate imaging studies.

jimbino said...

Ann, you are a perfect candidate for pot, dope, weed.

Come on back to Crested Butte, and I'll give you some legal stuff from my garden!

Then you can try out your new taste-stimulator at any of our fine restaurants.

traditionalguy said...

Can you taste salt?

MadisonMan said...

I'd guess the problem comes when a person who tastes bitter as sweet marries someone who doesn't, and then their kids are force-fed brussel sprouts and are expected to *like* them.

Xmas said...

Ann,

I wonder how'd you do with durian. The kind I had tasted and had the texture of a nice vanilla-banana custard/pudding. The olfactory sensation/aftertaste was of rotten garlic and onions.

Bob Ellison said...

Goose poop, Professor.

Also, you really must tour through the grasses before you give up on your sense of taste.

Parsley doesn't actually have any taste. Don't bother there.

Maybe try marijuana before your next taste test.

Finally, ignore what everyone writes here about taste.

Jim said...

Prof. A,

Did losing the sense of taste and smell make a difference in weight management?

Jim said...

My Mom lost her sense of smell in her 50s. She was a public health nurse who gave a lot of vaccinations. I thought at the time that repeated exposure to the alcohol that they used to clean the shot site may have caused her smell loss. Do you have any idea what contributed to your loss of smell?

chickelit said...

I've heard that 20th century art was inspired by (or influenced by) quantum mechanics. I wondered where "cubism" came from and whether it was a reflection of G.N. Lewis' discarded attempt to describe atoms and chemical bonding using cubes: link

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

MadisonMan--you just described my family. I adore all kinds of vegetables, and my husband is utterly repulsed by them. I thought, until we started hearing about "supertasters" and so on a few years ago, he was just being childish. Now I am a bit gentler on him and on the 1/2 of our children who cannot handle vegetables either.

The Crack Emcee said...

boldface,

I can just see the headlines now: "Blogger Ann Althouse Admits She Has No Taste."

This is not a music post,...

Rusty said...

Well then, stay out of France. About the only reason to go is the food.
There may be a couple of museums too, but its mainly the food.

FullMoon said...



I can honestly say this has happened to me several times.Loss of most of sense of smell and related taste for months, then it returned.Very strange because I did not realize it at first because I could still "feel" smells like smoke,and "feel" spicy foods.

I attributed it to remodel work in various environments.

Hope the comment about Parkinsons' is not correct. I do have this twitch in my shoulder....

John Hawks said...

Your nose knows death is imminent

"Losing the sense of smell predicts death within five years, according to new research."

D:

FleetUSA said...

Professor, Have you seen a good doctor about your issue? Sometimes it can be a byproduct of an illness (e.g. flu, pneumonia) or medicines you've taken.

I think you will appreciate getting back your taste buds.

Anonymous said...

But can you still reach a state of Ice Cream Hypnosis? I would think that would be partially texture and partially fat content. I'm guessing chocolate is out.

Anonymous said...

If you want to experience temporary loss of taste, work your way through an entire 18-piece pack of trident cinnamon gum then have one of your favorite foods and note how it is no longer enjoyable.

EDH said...

The seem to "generalize" their dislike of bitter vegetables to all green vegetables.

"I love broccoli. It's... good for you..."

"VILE WEED !!! "

sane_voter said...

Ann,
When did you notice that you were losing your sense of smell? And how soon did it go completely away?

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

IDK. So far as I can tell, broccoli isn't bitter at all.

OTOH, I've never pH tested it.

tim in vermont said...

I have started to like vegetables in my dotage. I never liked them before, but now I enjoy a vegetarian meal or two a week. Maybe this is why, but I did wonder why suddenly I enjoy a salad that ten years ago I would have called "weed whacker detritus."

Ann Althouse said...

"I'm curious Althouse if very spicy food is appealing to you or not. I like to add extra heat to Chinese food or Thai food for example. How does that work with your palate?"

It's bad. We were eating very hot chili (which Meade makes) and I think it was burning my tongue, but I'd only notice later.

Foods designed around strong flavor, as I said in the post, tend to fail. I'd rather have something that was based on blandness, because it's more likely to have good qualities that I can still appreciate, like creaminess or crunchiness.

In restaurants recently, I've enjoyed macaroni and cheese, risotto, butternut squash soup, that kind of stuff.

Ann Althouse said...

"Ann, hopefully you have had a complete olfactory work up including smell tests, lab work and appropriate imaging studies."

Yes, I've gone to the biggest expert at the UW Hospital. I've had an X-Ray of my nasal passages (and know that I'm not a candidate for surgery). I've had blood tests. So all the known causes are eliminated.

I don't think there is much interest in research in this area. Maybe I need to start the equivalent of the ice bucket challenge for this.

Maybe a challenge to smell something awful to show your appreciation for what you do have. I'd love to be able to smell something terrible, for example. Obviously excrement is a famously bad smell, but I assure you that I would be delighted to smell it!

Ann Althouse said...

"Can you taste salt?"

Yes.

That's why when Meade serves me a strip of bacon, he says: "Here's your salty cardboard."

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Risotto was going to be my recommendation! Almost every major cuisine has some sort of custard or tart, too, plus there have to be hundreds of quiches out there.

Ann Althouse said...

"Did losing the sense of taste and smell make a difference in weight management?"

It makes me want to eat ice cream. If I care to eliminate ice cream, I think I could easily lose weight. I'd just have to eliminate the things that I use to supply enough food. I think there is a danger of malnutrition, frankly.

Ann Althouse said...

"Do you have any idea what contributed to your loss of smell?"

I wish I could think of something to undo.

For a while, I suspected artificial sweetener, but I've stopped using that, it's been months, and I see no difference.

I've suspected the dog, but I've been tested for all the usual allergies and have none.

I wish I could think of something to eliminate. I live a pretty wholesome life. There's not much pollution here, I'm not under any stress. I wish I could think of something to change experimentally!

Ann Althouse said...

I was exposed to some chemicals as an art student and artist.

Epoxy fumes. Cadmium.

Not something I can take back now.

Ann Althouse said...

"Well then, stay out of France. About the only reason to go is the food. There may be a couple of museums too, but its mainly the food."

I know. This fits into my anti-travel theme.

But the truth is that I can find some things to like. I just need to know how to think about a menu. I have to resist blabbing about my problem to the waiter. Expressions of sympathy, I've found, are just depressing. I don't need anyone exclaiming "Oh, no! That's terrible!"

Titus said...

Being and executive level career gal requires juggling multiple balls at a time.

I am constantly on the go in strategic meetings with Key Opinion Leaders (KOL's).

It can be challenging to pinch a loaf. And when I do pinch I sometimes am unable to do a thorough wiping.

The end result can prove to be disastrous. Little pebbles of turd implant themselves in my 15 year old pucker causing much pain.

Have any of you ever experienced something similar?

Make it a super night and keep reaching for the stars!

tits.

Freeman Hunt said...

A friend who completely lost his sense of smell as a rare side effect of antibiotics loves chips. He was never really into chips before, but they're his favorite food now.

Todd Grimson said...

I have diabetes in my family, on my mother's side, and I experienced a real spike test in my glucose level noticed in a random blood test. My physician wanted to put me on medication, but I wanted to try the more conservative route of changing what I ate.

I realized I didn't really care that much about what I ate, and I decided to just pretend that I was in prison, and that whatever food my jailkeepers gave me was fine with me.

Since then, my blood sugar has stayed down and I've lost ten pounds (though I wasn't really conscious of needing to lose any weight).

Sometimes, people become almost annoyed that I simply have no interest in making any exceptions at say Christmas or Thanksgiving or whatever. I'm also just never that hungry, because who cares?

KLDAVIS said...

Check out Grant Achatz' story. One of the best chefs in the world, lost his sense of taste while being treated for cancer. He tells stories of similar experiences as you describe (sourness being physically painful). His food at Alinea in Chicago is modernist, and uses textures and Trompe-l'œil type effects to invoke emotions as much as flavor in some ways.

R. Chatt said...

Some of my favorite bland foods, besides vanilla ice cream, include: watermelon, lightly steamed green beans, eggplant parmesan, mashed potatoes, hard boiled eggs, artichokes, roasted seaweed snack from Trader Joe's, cauliflower, cucumbers, egg custard, steamed tofu with soy sauce, almonds, sun flower seeds, brazil nuts, cashews.

If Western medicine hasn't offered any solutions you might think about checking out Ayurveda which is all about tastes. Here's a good source: Maharishi Ayurved at the Raj
Dr. Nancy Lonsdorf M.D.
1734 Jasmine Avenue
Fairfield, IA 52556
Ph. (800) 248-9050
Fax: (515) 472-2496
www.theraj.com

rhhardin said...

The cold remedy Zicam causes loss of smell, at least according to some lawsuits.

May be permanent, or sometimes it recovers.

chickelit said...

Epoxy fumes. Cadmium.

Cadmium sulfide -- which is present in pigments -- isn't volatile, so it's unlikely you were exposed to its dust even if you used the paint. Did you mix your own paints from the powder?

Epoxides are a different story. I work with them now. As a rule, if you can smell it, it's too much. I guess that doesn't help the anosmic user.

LordSomber said...

Compare "The Case of the Colorblind Painter" by Oliver Sacks.

Food became disgusting due to its dead appearance - a black tomato looses its appeal somewhat - even when he ate with his eyes closed! Life started to loose meaning for him and if he could not go on painting he "wouldn't want to go on at all".

To provide some relief, and to be able to explain what was happening to his family and friends he started to transform his external world to match his internal perception. He turned to eating black olives, white rice, black coffee, and natural yoghurt! Even redecorating a room entirely in black, white and grey did not fully reflect his world, as he could not turn visitor's flesh into an "abhorrent grey".

Joe said...

For me, wine tastes like ass. I wonder if this is related.

EDH said...

My friend's mother couldn't smell as far back as 40 years ago when we used to smoke pot in the next room. She's still alive.

Titus, carry individually wrapped pre-moistened towelettes.

Megaera said...

A zinc-based cold remedy that you swabbed around the lower part of your nostrils seemed to have killed a major part of my sense of smell for years -- learned (too late!) after using it once that that seemed to be an unfortunate side effect for some people. However, about two years ago I started doing a particular B12 protocol and among several apparent benefits I've noted a gradual return of my ability to smell. Perhaps there is hope.

Ann Althouse said...

"Cadmium sulfide -- which is present in pigments -- isn't volatile, so it's unlikely you were exposed to its dust even if you used the paint. Did you mix your own paints from the powder?"

I did put the brushes in my mouth after washing them with castille soap and water. This is a traditional way to align and groom the bristles. It seems so stupid now, but I was taught to use it.

Ann Althouse said...

"Compare "The Case of the Colorblind Painter" by Oliver Sacks."

Thanks. I read that years ago, but will look at it again.

My problem is less bad than that, since tasting and smelling are not my main occupation in life. And I am not completely unable to enjoy eating.

I am thrilled to smell anything. For example, I can smell bergamot flowers.

Gene said...

In his forties my grandfather lost his sense of smell. One day when he was chasing his new wife around he house she accidently kicked him in the nose, whereupon his sense of smell suddenly returned. I am not recommending this exactly but the next time you chase Meade you might want to keep it in mind.

Anonymous said...

Ann, I am sorry surgery is not possible for you. I want to share my success story in case it helps someone else.

I moved 1000 miles from the midwest to the Gulf coast 16 years ago when I was 44 years old. Before the move I had trouble with pollen in the spring and fall but treated it with over-the-counter decongestants. After the move it took about 3 years for me to build new allergies worse than before. I now see an allergist once a year. He takes images of my sinuses from time to time and they showed a badly deviated septum. He refered me to a surgeon who corrects this condition and I had the surgery. It improved my breathing, I sleep better, I remember more dreams, and I can smell things I missed before--both good things like donut shops and bad things like restaurant dumpsters. For anyone who might be a candidate for this surgery I recommend you find a surgeon and get that person's opinion. It helped me.

Smilin' Jack said...

"Cadmium sulfide -- which is present in pigments -- isn't volatile, so it's unlikely you were exposed to its dust even if you used the paint. Did you mix your own paints from the powder?"

I did put the brushes in my mouth after washing them with castille soap and water. This is a traditional way to align and groom the bristles. It seems so stupid now, but I was taught to use it.


100 years ago the women who painted luminescent watch dials with radium paint did this. Many of them died horrible deaths as a result. Cadmium isn't radioactive, but if you suspect exposure to it might be your problem, check with your doctor--there are tests and treatments for it. And, of course, sue your art school.

tim in vermont said...

"juggling multiple balls" - TItus

Wow, from your stories, those genitalia of yours must really be something!

Anonymous said...

From an listicle about Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream:

When they were developing their flavors, Ben insisted on having massive chunks in their ice creams, and it wasn't just because he's a generous man. The guy has anosmia, which means he can't detect different smells. But he's subsequently very attuned to mouthfeel, and believed the craters of cookie dough and cherries set their ice cream apart. Turns out he was onto something.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thrillist/14-things-you-didnt-know_b_5921172.html