American restaurant critic Tejal Rao lost her sense of smell after coming down with Covid, and took a remarkable journey to get it back. Cooking without smell is difficult, she tells The Daily podcast: “It’s almost like wearing a blindfold.” Food becomes unpleasant – roast chicken is “very squishy” and popcorn is “like foam, but with sharp bits in it”.
She started with a Jamaican home remedy for smell loss that went viral on TikTok. She burnt a whole orange, mashed the hot pulp and ate it with sugar – but to no avail. Later she tried out smell training, which involves taking tiny “bunny sniffs” of four spices every day. The aim is to retrain the 400 smell receptors in the brain, which work to identify one trillion aromas.
Smells are connected to memories, moods and feelings. The idea behind the training is that “there’s this map in your brain you can follow to get smells back”. When sniffing cardamom, Rao was reminded of her deceased grandfather, who always used to chew cardamom pods. After two months, she has not only recovered her sense of smell, but can smell far more vividly than ever before.
Listen to the podcast here.
Ingredient of the week: spring onions
“Spring onions might be the most underrated of all vegetables, at least in the west,” says Bee Wilson in the FT. They’re often looked down on “as a mere garnish”, but for the price, “no other vegetable can delight in quite so many ways.” Served chopped and raw, they taste “like an onion in soft focus”, but cooked whole “their character transforms. They go as silky and sugary-sweet as leeks.” Try barbecuing them or charring them in a hot cast-iron frying pan.