I had hip replacement surgery a little more than two weeks ago. Things are fine, and I’m recovering well. My physical therapist tells me I wield my cane like a pro. (No kids on my lawn, believe me!) But there have been a few unexpected side effects. The most annoying of them is that food and wine don’t taste the same as they did before surgery.
One reason may be my medications. My husband Cy commandeered one of our bread baskets to hold the panoply of pills I have to take. It makes a lovely centerpiece on our table – a still life in pill bottles. Friends have been bringing us all kinds of wonderful food. But I noticed that the tastes of most things don’t live up to their aromas in terms of depth of flavor. Not that they don’t taste good, just not as flavorful as I thought they would by the smell. And believe me, our friends are great cooks, so the food’s not the issue.
Of course, we’ve been serving wine when friends bring food to eat with us. And I found the same taste thing was happening. I didn’t drink any alcohol while I was taking opioid pain meds. But I got off of those pills almost a week ago. The wines’ aromas are as they should be. And the initial fruits, acidity, tannins, etc., are there, but the expected second wave of deeper flavors isn’t. Naturally, this got me thinking about the interactions of smell and taste to try and figure out what’s going on.
I’ve found that most wines, even the lighter-bodied ones, don’t really taste the way they smell. It makes sense from a temperature standpoint. Much of our sense of taste comes from smell. But the flavor molecules that evaporate from wine at serving temperature – around 50°F for whites and 65°F for reds – aren’t the same flavor molecules that evaporate once the wine heats up to the temperature of your mouth, 98.6°F. (And your mouth could be warmer depending on what you’re eating.) Smelling your wine, which I definitely recommend, isn’t necessarily to tell you exactly what it will taste like, but more to prepare you for the experience to come. And it’s pleasurable in its own right, which is reason enough to do it.
Hot food, on the other hand, is more likely to taste the way it smells, since all those flavor compounds evaporate at higher temperatures. I can still smell things properly, because my nose tells me that the dishes our friends made will be full of rich flavor. There’s just something not translating from smell to taste with the less-volatile flavor molecules for me at the moment. (Pardon the techno-speak here. The lower the temperature at which something evaporates, the higher its volatility and vice-versa.)
It also occurred to me that it might not just be the meds. Maybe my body is suppressing some of the flavor so that I don’t eat and drink too much. I’ve noticed that even the idea of drinking wine isn’t as appealing as it was before surgery. Usually the suggestion of wine lights up my brain the same way our cat reacts to the sound of the bag of treats being opened. And I don’t get as hungry as I did, even though I’m eating less. Generally, not feeling hungry or thirsty hasn’t stopped me from fully enjoying food and wine when they taste the way they should. But perhaps my body is telling me that there’s still healing that needs to happen, despite the progress I’ve made.
Whatever the reason, there’s a silver lining. With luck, the taste of food and wine will serve as another indicator that everything is back to normal. The first meal when it all comes together will be something to remember – pretty much no matter what it is!
PS – no recipe this time. But I promise there’ll be one soon. After all, I’ve been served a lot of wonderful things lately!