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Do you smell your food?

MGZ Aug 11, 2010 11:43 AM

Some discussions on other threads led me to consider the interaction of smell and taste. I remembered one day a while back, I noticed my wife pausing her fork full of food below her nose, taking a sniff, and then proceeding to taste it. At first, I feared that I had served her a foul piece of foul. Then I had the "aha" moment - she's just slowing down and carefully enjoying her food. Brilliant! Why didn't I think of this sooner?

Needless to say, I now frequently make myself slow down to smell what I am about to consume. I find that the olfactory contribution to taste should not be discounted or underappreciated -- rather, encouraged. I mean, there's a reason that red wine glasses are shaped the way they are, right? Now, admittedly, I do not savor every bite of every dish. Frankly, I'm not always that patient when hungry. However, if I'm about to have a slice of pata negra that I had to neglect the cable bill to afford, I'm gonna take a nice, big whiff ("I better smell acorns!").

So, now, I ask . . . Do you take the time to savor? . . . Do you stop and smell your food?

  1. ttoommyy Aug 11, 2010 11:51 AM

    I usually take my hand and waft the steam coming off a hot plate of food toward me so I can breathe in the aroma. And occasionally I do take a discreet sniff of a forkful of food if it is particularly enticing or new to me. Good post!

    1 Reply
    1. re: ttoommyy
      Ruth Lafler Aug 24, 2010 05:25 PM

      I've done the hand-wafting thing. I've done it for other people, too: "ooh, smell this, it smells so good!"

    2. j
      joonjoon Aug 11, 2010 11:58 AM

      I ALWAYS smell my food (off the fork) when I'm eating high-end stuff (especially if there's something like truffles involved). Otherwise I'll stop to smell the food if something intrigues me...I guess it would be kind of weird if I stopped to smell a burger and french fries. lol

      1 Reply
      1. re: joonjoon
        mariacarmen Aug 11, 2010 12:33 PM

        but burgers and fries smell so good! high end or not, i love the smell of food. and yes, i do smell it as i'm eating it, and before.

      2. soypower Aug 11, 2010 12:40 PM

        The first time I really made a conscious decision to smell my food was after I noticed on Top Chef that that the 1st thing the judges always did after being presented with a dish was to lean down very close to the food and take a sniff. This really does enhance the experience. Smelling each forkfull? I'll have to try that as I'm always looking for ways to slow down and savor my meals.

        1 Reply
        1. re: soypower
          MGZ Aug 11, 2010 01:42 PM

          Well, I admit that I'll generally stop sniffing after a few tastes - once I feel I have a good appreciation for the totality of flavors.

        2. p
          pitterpatter Aug 11, 2010 04:22 PM

          I always smell my food, both when I am cooking something and when I am in a restaurant. I lean my full face about 4 inches from the plate or pot, and inhale deeply. I never even noticed that I do it until someone pointed it out. It's not about sniffing out poisons or anything. Most of our sense of taste is through our noses. When I was a cook by profession, I did this constantly I suppose, because I would have gotten bored and fat from constantly tasting everything on my tongue. I even learned to how smell salt and sugar, no joke.

          4 Replies
          1. re: pitterpatter
            Paulustrious Aug 14, 2010 08:29 AM

            I've been told you cannot smell sugar. But if I make two cups of tea for me and my mate, put sugar in one, then forget which, I can tell which one is sugared by the smell.

            He can't.

            1. re: Paulustrious
              Caroline1 Aug 14, 2010 08:37 AM

              I can smell sugar and assumed that everybody can. This is new! Whoops! Let me back up. I just went to the kitchen and did a little experiment. I cannot smell sugar or salt when they are dry. When they are wet, I cannot smell salt but I can smell sugar. Interesting...

              1. re: Caroline1
                pitterpatter Aug 15, 2010 08:10 AM

                I never really gave this much thought -- it was mostly instinctive. Perhaps in thinking I can smell salt, I am smelling the aromas during the salting process, and when they finally pull together "just so." About sugar -- after working 10 or so years as a pastry chef, let me tell you that sugar has a powerful aroma, especially when subjected to heat, and today I am repelled by sugar in all forms.

              2. re: Paulustrious
                Ruth Lafler Aug 24, 2010 05:22 PM

                Interesting. I wonder if I can tell salt from sugar by smell (just crystals in a dish)? I guess a lot of people can't, or you wouldn't have all those stories about how someone put in a bunch of salt rather than sugar. I can smell salt in a generously salted liquid solution, and I've had occasions when I thought I could smell a high concentration of MSG as well.

            2. RealMenJulienne Aug 11, 2010 06:19 PM

              Only when I'm by myself, but I always want to. My parents told me that was about the rudest thing I could do at the table because it showed I was mistrustful of the cook. I'm not mistrustful, I just enjoy it! So now I only do it sneakily.

              3 Replies
              1. re: RealMenJulienne
                MGZ Aug 12, 2010 06:35 AM

                I vaguely recall that admonition as well. It's ironic, actually, as I generally smell that food most worthy of savoring. Ultimately, I am complimenting the chef as I want no part of the tasting experience to escape me.

                1. re: RealMenJulienne
                  Becca Porter Aug 26, 2010 10:39 AM

                  I grew up with a girl who was a very picky eater. She always smelled her food, and then usually preceded to make a bad face.

                  Therefore, in my mind it seems rude. I am always slightly embarrassed if someone sees me smelling food especially on the fork. I realize though that it is just an issue in my head.

                  1. re: Becca Porter
                    Bill Hunt Aug 27, 2010 07:42 PM

                    Maybe, it's not the smelling, but some folks' reaction.

                    Normally, I do smell, and then a big smile crosses my face.

                    I'll often pick out small portions and sniff them lovingly. Often, I will instruct my wife to sniff/taste some aspect of the meal, and then try it with one of the wines in front of us. I try to not tell her what I am experiencing, and ask what she discovers. Sometimes, it is what I am finding, and sometimes it is totally opposed to what I found.

                    Still, the sense of smell is a big part of food for us.


                2. Boudleaux Aug 11, 2010 06:35 PM

                  This post reminded me of Hawkeye on M*A*S*H who always smelled his food before he ate it. But then, I can't say that I blame him. I do smell of things that are highly seasoned but not everything. I think it is a good idea, though.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Boudleaux
                    Sooeygun Aug 12, 2010 11:51 AM

                    That was the first thing I thought of. Of course, the food he was supposed to be eating would be something that didn't smell good.

                    I am more likely to smell things when I am out, or when I am making something new or different at home. The usual, same old dishes, I don't tend to smell.

                    1. re: Boudleaux
                      jujuthomas Aug 24, 2010 12:20 PM

                      I instantly thought of Hawkeye as well!
                      Sometimes I lean towards the plate and smell, but it depends on the meal. :)

                    2. Caroline1 Aug 12, 2010 03:47 AM

                      The *ONLY* time I eat without smelling my food before it goes into my mouth is when I have a severe head cold. Then absolutely nothing has any flavor. Fortunately (knock on wood) I haven't had one of those in decades! :-)

                      1. onceadaylily Aug 12, 2010 09:02 AM

                        I do it constantly when I'm cooking. I like to note how the addition of a single ingredient changes the smell of the dish. When my boyfriend gets home from work, he often goes right to whatever is on the stove and starts inhaling and shooting questions at me, testing himself.

                        In restaurants, we are more likely to stop and smell the entrees if we are trying a new place, or a new type of cuisine.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: onceadaylily
                          ipsedixit Aug 12, 2010 10:07 AM

                          Ditto this.

                          I definitely focus more on smelling my food (and the aromas in general) when cooking and prepping, esp. if I am baking something.

                          I do pay attention to the smells/aromas of my food when I am actually eating it, but it's definitely more acute during the cooking and prep stages.

                          When I'm eating, the most heightened sense for me is taste, and second would be touch (which incl. the texture on the tongue or mouthfeel) and then followed by smell, and then lastly sight.

                          1. re: onceadaylily
                            MandalayVA Aug 12, 2010 10:32 AM

                            I always sniff my first bite of food if I'm trying something new--I've done that since I was a kid.

                          2. bagelman01 Aug 12, 2010 10:01 AM

                            I don't, but my 13 year old daughter does at every meal, even something she's eaten 10 minutes earlier, drives me nutz.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: bagelman01
                              ospreycove Aug 12, 2010 10:14 AM

                              ttoommyy, I am with you; The fragrence wafting off a steaming plate of Frutti di Mare, made from the freshest clams, pulpo, shrimp, Grouper heads etc. is almost better than eating the mentioned dish. True enjoyment of great foods in their simple natural state is a multi sensual experience.
                              I've often found myself aimlessly wandering through a small town in Italy, trying to imagine what dish some Signora is preparing, based on the aromas in the vico.

                            2. wekick Aug 12, 2010 04:40 PM


                              1. Quine Aug 12, 2010 04:50 PM

                                My sense of smell is definitely used all day all the time. I could no more separate it from eating/tasting experience than I could my tongue or eyes. It sometimes is my first introduction to the food, smelling it being cooked before it arrives at table. When cooking I can tall when something is done to a certain point because of what I smell. I can smell if it is too salty, too sweet, if the oil is too old.
                                This is not to say that anyone could say I am "smelling" my food (vision of an old cartoon of a bloodhound, big bulbous nose bouncing over the food) from my actions. Friends are used to me saying, smell how good this is about food I haven't tasted yet.
                                It is part of your palate.
                                It is also said that smell is able to evoke our oldest and most emotional memories. It is critically important to me.

                                1. MGZ Aug 14, 2010 05:03 AM

                                  Now, it seems, we are venturing into concepts of, let’s call it, “conscious consumption,” or maybe, “evolved eating. “ Some of those are primarily physical, sensory, beyond strictly taste and smell – sight, feel, sound each play certain roles. Others, however, are not. The link between smell and memory is pretty well established. It seems that it would logically follow that a negative association with a smell might prevent one from being able to fairly appreciate the flavor of a dish from which such a scent emanates. On the contrary, a positive olfactory association may help make some food more palatable – say, liver and onions.

                                  Perhaps, then, it’s what we do with the sensory messages, especially, how much thought and attention we accord them that is the crux of inquiry. The references to “smelling” while cooking and preparing food is intriguing to me. It would seem that at those moments we are more alert and thoughtful due to the task at hand. Thus, we are more attentive to the sensory signals we are receiving.

                                  Ah, well, this is all still quite unrefined mumbling on my part. I do, however, really appreciate the thoughts and ideas you share and let me reflect upon . . . .

                                  1. s
                                    Sherri Aug 14, 2010 02:08 PM

                                    First, I smell food when I buy it; wouldn't think of buying most fruit or any fish without giving them a good sniff. Yes, people look at me oddly but I figure that I eat better than they do and ignore their stares.

                                    Next, I try to savor the smell on the ride home from purchase. Yesterday I went to our local Farmers' Market and was accompanied on the 35 mile trip back to the house by the most amazing peaches I have ever found. This nirvana was compounded by several loaves of fresh bread; I had a happy nose all the way home.

                                    Prepping and cooking, I sniff all the while. How can anyone NOT inhale the onion-garlic-butter combination without smiling? I would rather walk into a house to the smell of braising beef than almost anything I can think of. The perfume manufacturers have missed the boat on this one -- they ought to be perfecting eau de bread-baking instead of yet another floral fragrance.

                                    I've already had a sniff-o-rama when actual eating rolls around but you can bet that I inhale the flavor combination before taking that first bite. No, I don't put my face in my supper but try discreetly to enjoy everything the aromas have to offer. Now it's time to eat.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Sherri
                                      MGZ Aug 15, 2010 05:50 AM

                                      Ahh, another interesting intersection of the physical and psychological. Smells are generating anticipation. This anticipation when processed in light of experience becomes excitement. The excitement once actualized produces enhanced enjoyment. Thus, if you’ll pardon the rough hewn syllogism, smell provides enjoyment – not just in the immediate sense, but as a continuing contribution to the ultimate “tasting.”

                                      BTW - I agree about the fragrance folks. I've thought that savories like bacon or roast chicken would be much better potpourri than lavender or sweet apple cherry whatevers . . . .

                                      1. re: MGZ
                                        Sherri Aug 15, 2010 06:50 AM

                                        Anticipation enhances realization

                                    2. BamiaWruz Aug 21, 2010 10:24 AM

                                      Not really. I've never had a very good sense of smell which may explain my lack of taste buds too which is my cooking style and food is almost always seasoned with dramatic spices, not overwhelming but just intense.

                                      I know I should but rarely taste my food as I cook, I've somehow learned to season appropriately and just add a whole bunch of things and achieving what I was looking for and get a lot of complements.

                                      1. Paulustrious Aug 21, 2010 11:14 AM

                                        I can honestly say that I rarely dip my fingers in a sauce to taste it while I have guests in the kitchen.

                                        1. Popkin Aug 21, 2010 02:08 PM

                                          I always sniff my food, because it smells good!

                                          I smell while shopping, while prepping, and while eating. I love getting fresh bread at the store, I pick up the loaf and take a big whiff. I LOVE going down the seasonings aisle, it smells great :) Like somebody else mentioned, I can smell sugar in hot applications.

                                          I don't know what I would do without a good sense of smell. Incidentally I work in a pet shop, and can tell by smell the difference between an amazon (they have a fairly strong, distinct body odour, similar to a hawk-head and pionus), a macaw, and a cockatoo (cockatoos are very mild and "clean" smelling).

                                          Oddly, I cannot tolerate many artificial scents, many air fresheners and perfumes give me headaches to varying degrees (from mild headache to severe migraine with nausea in the case of some perfumes and strong cheap air fresheners). Bloody annoying when I run into people who don't believe that some component of a scent can make you feel like crap :P

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Popkin
                                            Quine Aug 21, 2010 02:49 PM

                                            Oh gotta on the parrot scent. I wonder if that is part of how they know opposite sex.

                                            yes a smell can cause an instant headache.

                                            When I watch reality cook-off shows I wonder how can they smoke so much and then think they have a great palate!

                                            I grew up in the business and in my 20-30's smoked a few years on then off then on then off. Oh Geesh! Did my tastes go off!

                                            1. re: Popkin
                                              EWSflash Aug 24, 2010 06:03 PM

                                              With you on t.he artificial scents, I can't believe so many people use them without getting sick at the smell. My MIL went on a cinnamon potpourri rampage a few years ago, my gosh the house smelled just awful (not a big cinnamon fan, but the bummer was, it wasn't even real cinnamon), and I had a headache and borderline nausea the whole time I was there. I was so tempted to holler "just open the damn windows for a half hour, already!"

                                              Then there are the people who use "pine scented" "air fresheners" in the bathroms. My favorite aunt described it this way- "Smells like somebody sh!t on a Christmas tree."

                                              Yes, I smell my food as fully as possible without appearing rude, because I like it. I used to have a nose like a bloodhound, figuratively speaking, but my sense of smell has diminished a lot over the past several years. It makes me sad but I still try to enjoy what I have left.

                                            2. sebetti Aug 23, 2010 02:14 PM

                                              Holy cow, the amount of crap my husband has given me over the years simply because I smell my food is unbelievable. He seems to think that I do it because I I'm uncertain if I'll like it or not. Really, I'm just curious about how it smells. I try not to obvious about it and I honestly think he only noticed it was because sometimes we'll share tastes of a meal or he'll feed me something and there's no way to be really discrete in that situation and, in that scenario, he's looking for a reaction.
                                              Really, I don't understand, why wouldn't you smell your food?

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: sebetti
                                                Quine Aug 24, 2010 02:59 PM

                                                "Really, I don't understand, why wouldn't you smell your food?" Seriously?
                                                Smell is a good portion of the taste of food.

                                                1. re: Quine
                                                  sebetti Sep 1, 2010 01:50 PM

                                                  errr, I think you might have mis-read my last line. ;-)

                                                  1. re: sebetti
                                                    Quine Sep 1, 2010 01:57 PM

                                                    I did, sorry, we totally agree on the issue.

                                                2. re: sebetti
                                                  Bill Hunt Aug 25, 2010 08:18 PM

                                                  Just my feeling, but I think that you husband might be missing part of the total enjoyment of eating.

                                                  I'm with you on this,


                                                3. b
                                                  blacvulture Aug 23, 2010 06:54 PM

                                                  I did yes yesterday,in fact. I made tamago for the first time and would occasionally stick my face nearly in the frying pan just to wallow in the delicious smell.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: blacvulture
                                                    EWSflash Aug 24, 2010 06:04 PM


                                                  2. Bill Hunt Aug 25, 2010 08:16 PM


                                                    That is one reason that I hate flowers close by, like stargazer lilies (love those, but not around food) and also heavy perfumes.

                                                    I try to indulge as many senses, as I can, with my food and my wine, and do not wish to be put off by other things, regardless of how lovely they might be in another situation.


                                                    5 Replies
                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                      MGZ Aug 26, 2010 04:14 AM

                                                      Ah, yes, the dreaded olfactory detractions. A personal “most loathed” is when there is a foreign fragrance on the tableware. For example, a dinner plate or wine glass that smells of dishwashing detergent is dreadful – especially when you’re in someone’s home and requesting a replacement is not only awkward but not certain to remedy the situation.

                                                      Recently, while dining out a server brought me a new fork with my entrée. As I began to eat, I realized that the utensil was foul from his cologne. Ultimately, I could only salvage the meal by retreating to the Men’s, thoroughly rinsing the offensive scent from my hands, and grabbing a replacement fork, which I sniffed, from an unoccupied table on my way back.

                                                      1. re: MGZ
                                                        Ruth Lafler Aug 26, 2010 11:41 AM

                                                        You must have a very sensitive nose!

                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                          MGZ Aug 26, 2010 01:03 PM

                                                          Perhaps, but I am sure I am not the only guy around here who has buried his snoz in a bowl and realized that either the wine has a distinct nose of Dawn or somebody didn't rinse the glasses well. I do, however, generally try to pay attention to sensory inputs.

                                                        2. re: MGZ
                                                          Bill Hunt Aug 27, 2010 07:52 PM

                                                          I've had several instances, where I asked for a replacement of the stemware, and explained my issue - disinfectant on the stemware. In some cases, the server wished to argue, but in most, the stemware was immediately replaced. In one case, I think that the same glasses were put back on the table, with some fanfare, and I rejected those, as well.

                                                          Too many in the restaurant business have no clue as to smells.

                                                          For me, I want most senses to be stimulated by my meals and my wines.

                                                          While I love the Molton Brown scents, and do appreciate those in FC on my trans-Atlantic flights, if I am still drinking wines, eating food, or enjoying my Port, I refrain, until I am done. Love the scents, but not while I am dining, or drinking. Same for a sweet-smelling young lady. Later - but not now.

                                                          Do not recall any smells on my utensils, but I would point that out, and quietly ask for a replacement. I do not believe that waitstaff should wear cologne, or heavy after-shave. While nice in other instances, with food, those can be very bad.

                                                          In the fine Port Houses in Oporto, there are identical dining rooms. The first is for the meal, and the wines to accompany. The next is identical, but is closed off from the aromas of the food. That is for the enjoyment of the Port. All guest are strongly encouraged to NOT wear any cologne, or after-shave lotions. For such events, I have several totally, scent-free cosmetics, and so does my wife.



                                                          1. re: MGZ
                                                            givemecarbs Sep 7, 2010 06:10 PM

                                                            What a great way of handling it MGZ! Sounds like something I would do.
                                                            My favorite diner has prime rib thursdays and I can't resist smelling my lovely slice of prime rib before I cut into it. I do sometimes get some odd looks. I never thought of smelling a forkful of it. Almost always when I do this I start salivating. I'm pretty sure this is good for your digestion as well as your dental health. Something about the extra saliva.
                                                            When I am home alone and I grill up a steak I always smell it as much as I like. I swear it tastes better. And chocolate bars are amazing to smell first, and hot chocolate, especially when I am stirring up a big pot of it. My toes just wiggle with delight.
                                                            I hate it when I get a nasty head cold and can't smell and can hardly taste. Hardly seems worth eating. Smelling my food makes me feel more alive!

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