By John Cox
FEMA Executive Director
It is the end of January and though it’s been winter for over a full month, we are just now starting to experience its low temperatures. With this drop in temperature comes the nearly inexorable common cold.
We often write about how flavor is a result of the senses working together and has much to do with experience. For instance, when you drink a glass of wine the combination of the aromas you smell and the actual taste present the desired flavor.
The Institute of Food Technologists stated in a report, Can you Taste Without your Nose?, “The sensory experience of eating is really a combination of taste and smell … Flavor is the word used to describe the perception of taste and smell together, along with any other perceptions experienced while eating.”
Have you ever noticed that when you have a cold, food just doesn’t taste right? You’re not alone. A cold temporarily damages your sense of smell and thus your ability to perceive flavor.
According to the American Rhinologic Society, “The common cold (also called an upper respiratory infection) often causes inflammation in the nose impairing smell via swelling and obstruction.”
Most of what we taste is actually sensed by our olfactory system, which is used for smell. Humans have about 40 million olfactory receptors. When a cold occurs, humans get congested, which leads to a stop in airflow to the olfactory receptors. Without odor compounds being able to make it to olfactory receptors, the sense of smell is significantly weakened to a point where it barely works.
Taste itself is rarely effected by a cold, but without the ability to smell what you’re tasting, it’s difficult to fully experience flavor. Fortunately, it only takes about a week for the cold to go away so you won’t have to wait long to enjoy all of your favorite flavors again.
So we ask you, in your personal experience, how has the common cold affected your ability to perceive flavor? In what other ways do you think flavor is affected by a common cold or change in the weather? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.
The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States (FEMA) was founded in 1909 and is the national association of the U.S. flavor industry. FEMA’s membership is comprised of flavor manufacturers, flavor users, flavor ingredient suppliers, and others with an interest in the U.S. flavor industry. The association is committed to ensuring a safe supply of flavor ingredients used in foods and beverages enjoyed by billions of men, women, and children around the world.