What COVID seems to have taught me about taste and smell

While I’m fully-vaxxed and once-boosted, I managed to catch COVID about 11 days ago. Who would’ve thought going to 3 different crowded indoor work/social events in largely unmasked NYC could possibly lead to COVID? Anyway, the host from one of the events alerted me that several people from the event popped up positive, just as I was beginning to feel the symptoms (about 4 days after the event).

Anyway, I appreciate Moderna, as I just had a minor short-lived sore throat and headache for a couple of days, with a hacking cough that lasted about 6-7 days (until yesterday). What also happened about 4 days ago is that I noticed I couldn’t taste much of my sweetener in my morning coffee. At first, it didn’t hit me that it might be due to COVID (as I haven’t heard much talk about loss of taste/smell with the recent variants). Then for lunch, I felt my food was light on salt. After a few days, I believe I’ve lost about 2/3 of my ability to taste sweet, and about 1/2 my ability to taste salt. I expect to get it all back, so I’m not worried. By the way, not sure about sour, bitter and the other one.

But what I think I’ve realized is that I taste a spectrum of flavors. I can recognize a sweet taste, but it seems there are some gaps in the sweet spectrum that are missing. Similar with salt. As dissatisfying as it is for me to not be able to taste full flavors, I would still enjoy my coffee less if I removed the sweetener from it (I tried that this morning) or salt from my food. I really never thought of the 4-5 basic tastes as being a range of more subtle “sub-tastes”.

I wonder if anyone else has experienced this, and noticed this.

A cold was going around in January I think it was, and I caught it after being fully vaccinated. My nose was runny and I felt like crap, and the next day I noticed I’d lost my sense of smell. So, while buying acetaminophen (paracetamol), I expressed my concern to the pharmacist, who said not to worry if I didn’t have a fever. Turns out I didn’t have a fever (at any point), I could smell things again the next day, and I got better a day or two after that. My conclusion is that a runny nose will deaden my sense of smell and that I just hadn’t noticed or paid attention to it before. I’m not saying it’s just your imagination, and, of course, actual COVID symptoms are another matter.

I was really surprised when I heard that people were losing the basic tastes, the ones sensed by the tongue. The ones that are actually based on smell, sure, because you’ve got a respiratory infection, but I had thought that the tongue would still work.

I’ve sometimes found, with a cold, that the sense of taste is warped, or disappears.

My loss of taste is actually more obvious now that I have no other symptoms at all. I agree that food never tastes quite right when you have a cold, and can’t smell normally. But I don’t have a stuffy or runny nose, or really anything else now.

It’s believed that in at least some cases loss of taste in covid is due to the virus affecting the sensory nerves, which is different than a respiratory infection affecting the senses due to swelling/congestion physically blocking the sensor, rather than the sensors themselves not functioning.

The wife contracted Covid in Bangkok a couple months ago. Fully vaccinated and boosted, the effect was that of a bad cold. She reports that her senses of taste and smell remain completely unaffected. She had the Pfizer vaccine, for what it’s worth.

Don’t have a link handy, but I read recently that some researchers believe that the loss of taste and/or smell is actually due to the infection striking those areas of the brain.

My sister caughr Covid early in 2020, and she still doesn’t have full taste or smell back. It’s getting better, but still quite a bit off. At first, things tasted weird, with wine tasting like vinegar, etc. Which is tough when you’re in the wine business. She can drink wine again but doesn’t trust herself for tastings.

Ever since I had the measles as a teen I have had a distorted sense of smell at every subsequent illness. During my bout of COVID I smelled warm bread everywhere. It was weird. All back to normal now, though.

I have, and mostly where I notice it is around sugar vs. artificial sweeteners.

For example, I’ve got a salad dressing that I accidentally bought that’s billed as “guilt free”- meaning calorie free, fat free, sugar free, dairy free, gluten free, carb free and cholesterol free. (I bought it on a pickup order because I thought ‘sun dried tomato vinaigrette’ sounded tasty, and didn’t notice the rest)

Anyway, this stuff is sweet, but in what I’d call a one-dimensional way. It uses monk fruit and stevia to provide the sweetness. It’s both a lack of mouthfeel, and what I’d call a lack of flavor- as in there must be a subtle sugar flavor that this is lacking, despite having the sensation of sweetness in spades.

Weird. I’ve heard smelling burnt toast (when there is no burnt toast) is a sign of a stroke.

I find that what I call “mouthfeel” is mostly provided by fat.

There’s definitely mouthfeel to sugar as well. I don’t know if it’s just a subtle difference in viscosity and/or something else, but it’s definitely perceptible. Lots of people do when they have sodas with sugar instead of corn syrup, for example. It’s not a flavor thing really, but more of a matter of other perceptions IMO.

My experience was similar. Loss of taste and smell was the last symptom to appear for me. I felt like I was getting better, but then I fairly quickly lost the ability to taste or smell anything. It slowly came back starting two weeks later.

I heard a cool story on NPR news about the sudden rush of complaints to the Yankee Candle company. They got a lot of gripes about people getting scented candles that didn’t smell like anything. They were baffled for a while, because their quality checks hadn’t shown any problems. Then somebody had a hunch. They charted the flow of complaints of no-scent candles, and it lined up perfectly with the rise and fall of COVID cases. The candles were working fine, but the customers’ noses quit working.

I lost my taste and smell a few years ago from radiation therapy on my neck. After my sunburned esophagus healed and I could eat, everything was 100% cardboard. It was a terrible experience. The memory of it is one reason why I’m still wearing a mask in public, even at my office. It’s one of those, “wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy” kind of things.

I’ve seen those “calorie free” dressings and spreads, and always wondered, “Exactly how healthy are those things?”

Yeah, it seems a bit strange to have it “free” of everything, and then use a bunch of suspect stuff to make up the difference.

Believe me, it wasn’t intentional. I just saw the flavor on the online search, and thought it sounded good, without noticing that it was some sort of silly dressing.

I did read somewhere that manufacturers can legally describe something as “calorie free” if a serving has 10 calories or less, and of course define very tiny servings.

Many years ago, (not due to COVID, obvs) I had a virus that nearly wiped my sense of taste and smell. All I had left was the bitter. I wonder whether it has ever come back completely. I was a super-taster before that, I don’t think I am anymore.

Anyway, one thing I learned is that if you aren’t using your taste buds, your body stops replacing them. You can wind up with a very smooth tongue. So my doctor advised me against using the opportunity to go on a liquid diet, and instead to eat normally.

Coffee just tasted like bitter water. I grew a lot as a chef because I learned just how much salt/sweet/sour hide the bitterness in foods. Many things I usually enjoy tasted like poison. It was about 18 months before I thought things might be back to a normal level. Surprisingly difficult to judge, as it came back so slowly.