Most of us never give much thought to how our sense of smell influences our sense of taste. The pleasure from appreciating the dimensions and nuance of flavors disappears when you lose your ability to smell. When this occurs later in life the impact is a difficult adjustment. While Superficial Siderosis may bring many neurological changes one of the more exasperating symptoms is anosmia. Cooking for someone with anosmia requires planning along with a little experimentation. Be prepared to embrace the crunch.
Anosmia, the absence of olfactory sensation can either be congenital or acquired.
Gary’s sense of smell faded slowly, taking more than ten years to completely disappear. Pretty handy if you’re asked to dispose of something stinky but a poor trade-off for being able to enjoy the scent of fresh flowers or the aromas of an excellent meal. Keeping meals interesting for everyone at the table is not easy.
The focus now is all about texture; the crunch, creaminess, and chew factor. Highlight your textures with sweet, salty, bitter or spicy. Experiment with creating combinations so mealtime doesn’t devolve into a tedious ordeal. Acquired anosmia is often linked to malnutrition when people lose their interest in food.
Overcooking fresh or using commercially canned products have zero flavor and the mouthfeel of baby food.
Vegetables will be tricky. You can avoid this by very lightly steaming or oven roasting fresh vegetables to a hint past raw. I’ll steam carrots just enough to soften the outer edge and then caramelize them in a sauté pan until they’re crispy. Cinnamon is a spice that will give a hint of something to Gary from the taste receptors on his tongue, so adding cinnamon with brown sugar or honey to the pan will produce something satisfying.
Technically, the definition of ‘taste’ should a description of the gustatory qualities of your taste buds and the sensory sensations of your mouth. Someone with anosmia will be able to distinguish basic primary tastes of sweet, salty, sour, umami and bitter. They will also feel the heat of capsicum. These are chemical signals your brain interprets as taste.
While anosmia is the loss of smell the true loss of taste is termed ageusia.
Nuance in flavor is no longer as important as contrasts. Gary can eat ice cream with his eyes closed. He will be able to tell you it’s cold, it’s creamy, it’s sweet, but he won’t be able to tell you the flavor. Try to pick brands that are full of textures and chunks-nuts, salted caramel, bitter dark chocolate chunks, etc. Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s was born with anosmia. That’s why their style of ice cream features such a variety of chunks and textures.
We both loved a creamy butternut soup but a pureed soup no longer hits the texture mark. I now roast a baking sheet filled with a small dice of carrots, onion, celery, mushrooms, and butternut until the natural sweetness develops but the crunch is still there. I enjoy my creamy soup and Gary has pops of crunchy sweet vegetables.
Practice adding sweet-spicy glazes to meats or grilled vegetables. Balsamic syrup, bitter chocolate, coarse sea salt are good choices. Hot sauce and peppers will become a staple. A broiled parmesan crust will work wonders. Gary loves fresh mozzarella, lightly salted, and broiled until it becomes a browned chewy mess. Mix textures with fillings of either crunchy or creamy. Grill things until they are heavily charred. Whole carrots, lightly steamed, glazed with a honey/hot sauce combo are great grilled over an open flame until they are charred. Crunchy, sweet and hot all rolled into one.
The best you can do is keep experimenting.