My not-so-secret weapon? Hydration, Hydration, Hydration—and my trusty chipped mug sidekick.

Over the past couple days, I’ve been choosing my foods mostly by food group, texture, and temperature. Normally, taste is near the top of the list, but due to the congested state of affairs in my nose and throat, I can’t really taste much of anything, making things like color much more important.

For example, I made a dinner of whole wheat penne, butter beans, and broccoli rabe with lots of garlic and red pepper flakes. While eating, I could tell that the broccoli rabe was nice and bitter, but I couldn’t pick up on the garlic and green flavors I love so much. Bummer. It made me think of my grandfather, who says that he was born partially deaf and without a sense of smell.

While hearing doesn’t have much of anything to do with your sense of taste, smell plays a huge role in the way that we perceive flavor. While the taste receptors on the tongue and in the mouth do pick up on the sweet/salty/sour/bitter/umami essence, the olfactory receptors in the nose are responsible for rounding out the experience we come away with—unless, of course, you have a head cold. Or no sense of smell at all.

You can read more about the olfactory system and how it relates to taste perception here.

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