How to regain your sense of taste and smell after COVID-19

Powerfully aromatic and flavorful foods like ginger, peppermint and peanut butter can help you get your sense of smell and taste back. So can strongly-scented essential oils.
Oct. 19, 2021
Chef smells food as he cooks. How to regain your sense of taste and smell after COVID-19.
Cooks and people who love to eat can’t bear to live without their senses of taste and smell. If you lose taste and smell after a bout with COVID-19, try these methods to get them back. Photo: Getty Images.

We’re told that SARS-CoV-2, like its cousin the common cold virus, will be with us for a long time (forever?) How odd that it remains the “new” coronavirus, two years on.

And that means that, for certain persons, its symptoms will occur for a long time, too. For the cook, the most telling symptom is the way COVID-19 sometimes wipes out a person’s sense of taste or smell, sometimes both.

This came home to me because, over the past two years, both my son, Colin, and one of his closest friends, Dan Murray, a Denver small business owner, both suffered total losses to their senses of smell and taste. In both cases, they also attempted to “retrain” those senses by using strongly-flavored and -scented food.

“After about two weeks,” said Murray, “I got back around 25 percent. In probably six weeks, 80 percent. At first, all I could feel on my tongue was texture—no taste. It was like wearing a surgical glove on my tongue.”

Read other great articles and recipes by Bill St. John.

“I did two things,” said Murray. “I ate (the candy) Hot Tamales and, every morning for weeks, I went to an organic juice shop near work and got a shot of their ginger-apple cider vinegar juice. It was daily training.” He used it as a test, he said, “until I made a ‘bitter beer face,’ a kind of ‘squinty tart face.’”

For his part, Colin, who quarantined in a hotel room in Philadelphia for more than a week, just happened to purchase “a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter at a nearby CVS,” he said. “I stuck my nose in the jar all the time to see if I could smell something. In time, it got faint, like someone eating peanuts 10 rows behind you at a ballgame.”

Colin’s taste wasn’t merely gone “for a good ten days”; it also was skewed when it crawled back. “A Miller Lite at the airport tasted really bad,” he said, “acrid, just bitterness and alcohol; no malt, no floral notes. It wasn’t beer.”

Is it possible to ‘retrain’ your nose and get back your sense of taste and smell after COVID-19?

Dr. Jennifer Reavis Decker at the UCHealth Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic, has helped her patients, some of whom are children, to retrain their sense of smell by using strongly-scented essential oils (especially the four of citrus, floral, fruit and spice). It is called “olfactory retraining.”

“The sense of smell is closely linked to memory,” she says, “especially pleasant memories.” That’s why using peanut butter or peppermint candy with children makes more sense than something like the odor of clove or jasmine, of which they typically have little memory or, surely, pleasant ones.

Decker also reminds that many smells are perceived via “the rear nasal pharynx, after a swallow” when the tongue “lifts” air into that passage and onto the olfactory globe where we smell smells. So, attend to the memories that that may evoke for you if you retrain your sense of smell (and the sense of taste that goes with it) after losing it.

Decker also points out two important considerations: first, that “your best shot at improving your sense of smell is during the first 6 weeks after losing it,” and that, second, “the best way to avoid losing your sense of smell (to COVID-19) is to get vaccinated.”

The cookie recipe here is peanut buttery but not overly sweet, so not to distract the palate from tasting sweetness over the nut butter’s aroma. The ginger-based “shot” is powerfully aromatic and flavorful. When swallowing, be sure to push some air up through the rear nasal cavity so that you get a strong smell of it, too.

Healthy Peanut Butter Cookies

Healthy Peanut Butter Cookies and a Ginger Lemon Apple Cider Vinegar Shot can be ways to help “retrain” a sense of smell or taste lost to COVID-19. Photo by Bill St. John.
Healthy Peanut Butter Cookies and a Ginger Lemon Apple Cider Vinegar Shot can help people regain their sense of smell or taste after a bout with COVID-19. Photo by Bill St. John.

From thefirstyearblog.com. Makes 8-12 depending on size. Although the recipe states that “the cookies won’t spread much,” they do.

Ingredients

1 cup quick-cooking oats

3/4 cup peanut butter

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup honey

1 egg

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the oats in a blender or food processor and pulverize for 30 seconds to make oat flour. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oat flour, peanut butter, baking soda, salt, vanilla, honey and egg. Use a hand mixer (or heavy wooden spoon) to combine; the mixture will be thick.

Scoop dough balls of about 1 1/2 tablespoons in volume and place on a silicone- or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Press the dough balls down using the palm of your hand. Create a crisscross pattern on the top of each cookie by pressing a fork into the dough. If the fork sticks to the dough, wipe the fork on a paper towel sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Because the cookies won’t spread much, you can place them closer together and probably fit all the dough on one baking sheet.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes. The cookies will be soft and tender when they come out of the oven; allow them to cool and firm up on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack.

Store the cookies in an airtight container on the counter for up to 3 days. These cookies can also be frozen. Wrap them in bundles of 3-4 cookies in plastic wrap then place inside a zippered plastic bag and place in the freezer.

Ginger-Lemon-Apple Cider Vinegar Shots

A very healthy tonic, but not for the faint of heart. Makes about 12 ounces (1 1/2 cups).

Ingredients

8 ounces fresh ginger root

1 large lemon, zested and juiced

2/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

1/8 teaspoon fine sea or kosher salt

Directions

Peel the ginger: Using a dull-edged spoon or knife, scrape and rub away the skin on the ginger, getting into the nooks and crannies as best you can. Chop the ginger into 10-12 pieces and pulse, then pulverize, them in a food processor, scraping down the bowl from time to time, until the ginger is nearly a paste.

Add the zest and juice from the lemon, the vinegar, honey and salt and process until the mixture is a thick slurry. Spoon the amount you desire into a small glass and drink down in one “shot.” Stores in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

This story first appeared in The Denver Post. Reach Bill St. John at billstjohn@gmail.com

About the author

For more than 40 years, Bill St. John’s specialties have been as varied as they are cultured. He writes and teaches about restaurants, wine, food & wine, the history of the cuisines of several countries (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the USA), about religion and its nexus with food, culture, history, or philosophy, and on books, travel, food writing, op-ed, and language.

Bill has lent (and lends) his subject matter expertise to such outlets as The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, 5280 Magazine, and for various entities such as food markets, wine shops, schools & hospitals, and, for its brief life, Microsoft’s sidewalk.com. In 2001 he was nominated for a James Beard Award in Journalism for his 12 years of writing for Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Bill's experience also includes teaching at Regis University and the University of Chicago and in classrooms of his own devising; working as on-air talent with Denver's KCNC-TV, where he scripted and presented a travel & lifestyle program called "Wine at 45"; a one-week stint as a Trappist monk; and offering his shoulder as a headrest for Julia Child for 20 minutes.

Bill has also visited 54 countries, 42 of the United States, and all 10 Canadian provinces.

ADVERTISEMENT