A family cooking in the kitchen
Taste and Smell
A family cooking in the kitchen

Taste and smell changes

You may experience loss of smell following your COVID infection. We do not have long-term data for COVID patients about recovery of smell. We know from studies of loss of smell caused by other viruses that sense of smell can return quickly within a couple of weeks whilst others can take many months to recover. Recovery can sometimes be slow. From what we know so far, about 1 in 10 cases of smell and taste problems persist after COVID infection; we know from other viruses that about 1 in 3 people will see recovery of their sense of smell over 3 years.

Loss of smell (both good and bad odours) will affect how well you can detect flavours. When we eat, the flavour of food is the combined experience of smell and taste together. We have five basic tastes sweet, sour, salty, bitter and ‘savoury’ (called umami) which are not normally affected when we lose our sense of smell because they are detected with the tongue. However, there is evidence that in COVID true taste can be affected as well as smell.

 

What does this mean for me?

You may find your favourite foods taste and smell differently following your COVID illness. Food may taste bland, salty, sweet or metallic.

These changes are usually short-term but can affect your appetite and how much you eat.

 

How can I improve the taste of food?

  • It is important to choose foods that appeal to you to ensure you eat well, but continue to retry foods as your taste preferences may change.

  • Keeping your mouth clean and healthy by brushing your teeth morning and evening and rinsing your mouth with water if it feels dry or uncomfortable. Avoid alcohol based mouthwashes.

  • If you a find cooking smells are affecting your appetite, microwave ready meals or cold food can be a short-term alternative.

  • Unless you have been given specific recommendations from a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) regarding your swallowing, try experimenting with different flavours, textures and temperatures of food to see which you find more edible. You may find bland flavours such as plain chicken, fish, tofu and rice may be easier to eat especially if you are still feeling nauseated or have an unsettled stomach. Cold or room temperature foods may also be more acceptable.

  • A good protein intake is important for your recovery however, high protein foods can take on a bitter or metallic taste. Try marinating meats with sweet/sour marinades to change the flavour and try a variety of protein sources to find the most enjoyable one for you; red meat, poultry, fish, egg, cheese, vegetarian meat alternatives, beans and pulses.

  • Adding strong flavours to food can help with taste e.g. herbs and sauces such as apple sauce, mint sauce, cranberry sauce, horseradish, mustard and pickles. Spices can also improve flavour.

  • Sharp/tart flavoured foods and drinks such orange, lemon, lime flavours can be useful in balancing very sweet tastes. Sucking boiled sweets and mints may also help refresh your mouth before and after eating.

  • If foods have a metallic taste, try plastic cutlery instead of metal and use glass cookware.

  • Salty or bitter taste changes may be improved by choosing low salt varieties and adding sweet flavours to food or drink, such as sweetener, honey, or sugar.

  • If you are struggling to maintain your weight do follow the eating well advice.