Unfortunately, Janie got the flu this year and a very stuffy nose. Her Mom, knowing that Janie loves homemade chicken noodle soup, brought it to her to help her feel better. Janie was excited when...

Unfortunately, Janie got the flu this year and a very stuffy nose. Her Mom, knowing that Janie loves homemade chicken noodle soup, brought it to her to help her feel better. Janie was excited when she saw the soup but after taking a spoonful became disappointed. Even though it was the same chicken soup recipe, it just didn’t taste right. Can you explain why?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Taste buds contain nerves that are extremely sensitive; in fact, they are as sensitive as the nerves involved with smell. Both, the senses smell and taste, are closely connected. This is evident in the primitive reaction that all humans experience when we smell delicious food and immediately salivate. It is also evident in that one sense affects the other greatly; when we smell disgusting scents we immediately feel slightly sick to our stomachs. This is because our brain is conditioned to a smell-taste-eat-digest routine. Even when the tasting or eating are not there when we smell something bad, our body’s systemic memory still becomes engaged.

Whenever there is blockage in the nose as a consequence of excessive production of mucus, the first thing that may occur (and in the majority of times does occur) is that the back of the mouth, throat, and other tissues close to the mouth become inflamed. As a result, the slow blood flow, the general malaise, and the blockage cause that those otherwise sensitive ramifications of nerves in the taste buds become dull. Now that the nerves are no longer as sensitive, there is less chances of actually tasting any of the food; in fact, the food may even taste badly. This has nothing to do with the food but with our mouth, and even our psychological reactions when things do not come out as we expect. In this case, the girl expects a specific flavor and a psychological expectation of satisfaction from her soup. Since her taste bud nerves are dull and not as active, she cannot get the flavor and satisfaction that her body is accustomed to and her immediate correlation is that the soup tastes “bad”, even though it has the same ingredients.  There is even a possibility that she starts associating the soup to this incident and she may not want to eat it again in the future after she gets cured from the cold.  Therefore, mucus production, the effect on numbing the nerves that activate our taste buds, and the psychological dissatisfaction of being ill cause everything to change.

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