Your health and your taste buds

Some illnesses and medicines alter your ability to taste foods. The result may be partial or total ageusia (the medical term for loss of taste). Or you may experience flavor confusion — meaning that you mix up flavors, translating sour as bitter, or sweet as salt, or vice versa.

Table 15-1 lists some medical conditions that affect your sense of taste.

Table 15-1 These Things Make Tasting Food Difficult

This Condition

May Lead to This Problem

A bacterial or viral infection

Secretions that block your taste buds

of the tongue

Injury to your mouth,

Damage to the nerves that transmit flavor

nose, or throat


Radiation therapy to Damage to the nerves that transmit flavor mouth and throat

The nose knows — and the eyes have it

Your nose is important to your sense of taste. Just like the taste of food, the aroma of food also stimulates sensory messages. Think about how you sniff your brandy before drinking and how the wonderful aroma of baking bread warms the heart and stirs the soul — not to mention the salivary glands. When you can't smell, you can't really taste. As anyone who's ever had a cold knows, when your nose is stuffed and your sense of smell is deadened, almost everything tastes like plain old cotton. Don't have a cold? You can test this theory by closing your eyes, pinching your nostrils shut, and having someone put a tiny piece of either a raw onion or a fresh apple into your mouth. Bet you can't tell which is which without looking — or sniffing!

Food color is also an important clue to what you'll enjoy eating. Repeated studies show that when testers change the expected color of foods, people find them (the foods, not the testers) less appealing. For example, blue mashed potatoes or green beef lose to plain old white mashed potatoes and red meat every time.

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