Is there any truth in the notion that smoking numbs your tasting ability, and specifically your wine tasting ability? According to scientists, the answer lies in the mechanics of tasting. Traditionally there are four tastes: sweet, salt, sour and bitter, and scientists are generally accepting that there now is a fifth referred to as umami, a complex taste found in soy sauce or parmesan – not quite salty, not quite sour.
Our taste sensation, however, relies on more than just the tongue. Scientists believe that the receptors on the tongue’s surface, along the soft palate and the pharynx all work together with our sense of smell to create the taste sensation.
When one smokes, the tar and nicotine coats the taste buds and nasal passages and deadens the taste buds as well as the receptors in the nasal epithelium, which in turn lowers their sensitivity to sensory stimuli. When it comes to taste, it seems nicotine’s bitter taste might override other tastes and some research suggests that this compound has an irritant sensation that may inhibit the taste response.
Another study by researchers of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found that smoking alters how women perceive sweet foods. Women who smoked were less sensitive to sweet taste that women who never smoked and needed higher concentrations of sugar to detect a sweet taste.
So does one’s tasting ability improve after quitting? We’re not sure, but according to this article (written from the viewpoint of coffee tasting), tastebuds regenerate within 10 to 20 days of injury, so the likely answer is yes. Good news for those still needing a reason to quit!