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Mar 22, 2007 05:01 PM

Is it possible to taint your taste buds?

I'm curious...Is it possible to taint your taste buds? Basically does anything one would do by eating, drinking, or inhaling alter taste buds? hmmmm

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    1. re: fascfoo

      This may well be an urban legend. When I quit smoking, I didn't notice that my tasting ability improved, that my palate became more sensitive, that nuances that had previously eluded me suddenly or gradually became apparent. Most ex-smokers I've discussed the question with say the same thing.

      And how do you explain that fact that many professional wine tasters are also heavy smokers? Hugh Johnson's explanation is that smokers' taste buds adjust; I suspect he's right.

      1. re: carswell

        Agreed. I quit smoking for 10 years and noticed no change. Then started again. No change.

        It should be noted that professional wine tasters don't consume the wine they're tasting. They spit it out.

        Consuming wine while you're cooking probably can "taint your your taste buds," perhaps significantly, depending on how much sauce the cook is into.

        1. re: MakingSense

          I would suspect you wouldn't notice a change upon quitting because it was permanently lost, much like hearing after years of noise.

          1. re: Hamhock

            Hearing loss from repeated or sudden exposure to loud sounds is due to nerve damage. It varies from person to person.
            Some people have a more accute sense of smell or taste (not necessarily the so-called supertaster phenomenon) whether they smoke or not. It can also be influence by training or awareness, although I think there are some who lack the ability to discriminate.
            Many people simply don't taste their food or they cover it up with sauces that mask flavors. They can only taste the strongest of flavors, never nuance.
            Prejudice also plays a role. You may be opposed to smoking and think that smokers can't possible taste as well as you do although, as carswell points out above, many professional wine tasters smoke, as do many chefs and food critics.

            1. re: MakingSense

              MakingSense I agree with you on hearing loss and the accuteness of some peoples senses but i disagree with your thoughts on sauces. Sauces are used to enhance flavors of the food. If used properly they can even bring out subtleties in that food. I must also disagree with your view of smoking. Just because a chef prepares an excellent meal doesn't mean he or she can taste better than you. smoking dulls the senses of smell and taste. True taste is made up of abouit 70% smell and 30%taste buds taste. I am currently studing culinary arts in which we taste what everyone has made and offer our oppinions as feedback on each others work. When we first started out many of the smokers dishes were often over spiced; some too hot or spicy if you prefer that term while others too salty. As time in the program has elapsed all of the students have learned to cut back or add to accomidate to the general consumers taste. What makes a great chef is not his tastebuds its his creativity with food. The ideas you develope are key to being a success and also knowing how to adjust from your taste to your consumers' taste.

              to the original post i would say both smoking and over using of spices can dull your senses. smoking is one of the more permanent effects though where as over usage of spices can be changed by cutting back and allowing time to bring back your taste.

              1. re: Mr. Chili

                an awful lot of pro chefs smoke. a person can taste the subtle nuances in food based on whether they have a trained palate or not, regardless of smoke/nonsmoke. chefs have trained palates, so i'd disagree that they *can't* taste better than others.

                what is interesting about your post is that you mention 2 things: salt, & (hot & spicy) spice-- that tend to be taken a bit overboard if the chef happens to be a smoker. when dh started smoking again, he over chili'd and oversalted all of his food, when he quit again, his palate swung back to "normal" (nonsmoking). throughout, he'd taste everything in a dish perfectly and all of the other elements of seasoning, texture, acidity, mouthfeel etc would be spot on. makes me think of how some people claim not to like (all) restaurant food because "it's all too salty," when they are in fact referring to the disconnect between the taste-sense of the traditional, (french) smokes-like-a-damn-chimney chef, & his/her nonsmoking clientele.

    2. Many medications can alter your sense of taste. I've been on antibiotics that made everything I ate taste unpleasantly metallic.

      1 Reply
      1. re: GG Mora

        For a short period of time, but what dulls them or alters taste permanently?

      2. Definitely smoking for many years changes tastebuds forever. And if you damage your tongue permanently, your sense of taste would change. Onefriend of mine swears his fillings changed things.

        1 Reply
        1. re: mojoeater

          "Definitely smoking for many years changes tastebuds forever"

          Oddly enough living for many years changes tastebuds forever too.

          The good thing is we do most of our tasting with our olfactory senses.

          As noted above, some of the most famous professional tasters in the world are smokers. "El Nariz" who passed about 10 years ago was the dean of sherry blenders, and he smoked.

          Interestingly though not surprising, tobacco blenders tend to be smokers too. They actually have to taste the difference in the smoke.

        2. certain head injuries remove sense of taste or smell. it makes it very difficult for those patients to eat enough.

          pregnant women also report many foods tasting different during and for a time after delivery. hormones and all that.

          1 Reply
          1. re: hotoynoodle

            "it makes it very difficult for those patients to eat enough"

            About four years ago I developed anosmia (the inability to taste anything) after suffering a severe sinus infection during a scuba diving trip to Asia. I went through a series of tests at the Monell Jefferson Taste & Smell Center in Philadelphia to try to discover exactly what it was that was impaired. The tests were fascinating and I discovered that my inability to taste was almost entirely due to what was happening in my nose, not what was happening in my mouth.

            Anyway, with reference to your comment about people with anosmia not eating enough, I had exactly the opposite problem. Since I could no longer enjoy the taste of the food I was eating, it was only a sense of fullness that seemed to satisfy me and I'd eat until I was stuffed. It was a difficult time--and very, very depressing.

            I was extremely lucky. In little more than a year I regained my sense of smell and with it my sense of taste. Many people, especially those whose anosmia is the result of a brain injury, never do.

          2. I think if you eat a lot of spicy and/or bold tasting foods, it will dull you sensitivity to milder flavors.

            9 Replies
            1. re: Humbucker

              pregnancy changes the smell and taste of some things.

              I couldn't bear the smell of banana cake, perfume and coffee when I was pregnant.

              1. re: smartie

                About pregnancy-- I was intensely repulsed by the smell/taste of "off" food, especially old meat. Even day old leftovers that tasted totally normal to everyone else. It hasn't really gone back to normal; I still prefer to avoid any meat that's not impeccably fresh. When pregnant with one child, cumin and cooked green pepper were repulsive as well.

                There are some studies about the change in women's taste preferences when pregnant mentioned here

                I think chemotherapy and other medicines can give all food a metallic taste. It's happened to people I know.

                I've heard that if you reduce your sodium content, you then are more sensitive to saltiness and can't eat what you used to find tasty. Sort of similar to acclimating yourself to spicier food.

                1. re: Humbucker

                  I know eating spicy food dulls your sensitivity to spiciness. I don't know if it affects sensitivity to flavor. I do know that foods with "subtle" flavors are wasted on me. I greatly prefer foods with "hit 'em over the head" primary flavors, and I also like very spicy food, such as my latest hot sauce kick, Endorphin Rush (33k scoville units). I can't say whether there' s any relation between my like of strong primary flavor and strong spiciness, or whether liking spiciness indicates a likelihood of preferring strong primary flavor.

                  1. re: aynrandgirl

                    Taste buds register less sensation in response to the regular consumption of spicy foods.

                    Every taste bud has a relay to the brain for each of the five basic tastes: sour, sweet, salty, bitter and umami. (It's not determined by an area of the tongue as thought previously.) When more and more spicy hot foods are consumed, the relays down-regulate -- this is the key -- so that less flavor sensation is relayed and registered by the brain. The result is that it takes hotter and hotter foods to register spiciness or even flavor.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      maria lorraine, I love your science geekness! I can attest by anecdotal evidence only that you can acclimate yourself to hot foods, as suggested above. There was a time when spicy was scary, now embraced.

                      However, I don't think it inhibits my ability to taste subtlety in all areas, I feel that I am just more heat tolerant overall. I can still discern ingredients in a less strongly flavored dish. I can just handle the chilis more. Thoughts?

                      1. re: cheesemonger

                        I don't know exactly if the flavor relays down-regulate for all flavors when spicy hot food is regularly consumed, or just spicy flavors. Good you can still taste nuance, cheesemonger. It appears that some eaters who chase higher and higher levels of heat and Scoville units lose their ability to perceive subtle flavors.

                      2. re: maria lorraine

                        maria - you sound just like my roommate in college! (a biophysics major!) A good friend of ours, Heather, loved unseasoned foods - plain baked chicken breasts, steamed broccoli...I like my foods kicked up many notches - pour on the Red Hot sauce, cumin, cayenne - anything spicy.
                        My biophysics roomie told me that my affection for highly spiced foods was dulling my taste buds -even damaging them to a point where I have very little ability to taste the true flavors of foods in their purests states. I didn't believe her. She then broke out the microscope and did a tastebud comparison (Yes - we had a lot of time on our hands in college in upstate NY!). My friend Heather's buds looked round, and mine looked jagged and somewhat caved in. I gotta say - I think she was right - I still need a lot of seasoning in my food!

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          That each taste bud can sense all flavors does not comport with my reading.

                          Certainly it does not comport with the widely held, well, we'll call it belief that children are more attuned to sweets by virtue of having more taste buds attuned to sweets and that these taste buds are juvenile and nature and do not reproduce as we age which is why, generally speaking, more kids have a "sweet tooth" than adults do.