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walls are up, you know what I’m talking about. By adding a spritz of lemon here or a pinch of salt there, you can alchemize the ingredients so that what hits the tongue in the end is pure bliss. That’s FASS as a culinary tool, and it’s a mighty powerful use of yum. But it only scratches the surface of what FASS can do to address taste changes in people undergoing treatment. It’s a strange thing about chefs and taste—we all depend on it to make a living, yet very few chefs, or even physicians and scientists, know how the taste buds work. But to most effectively compensate for malfunction of the taste buds, you need to know how they work when things are normal. For nearly a century, the conventional wisdom said that individual taste buds resided in different regions of the tongue: Sweet up front, bitter in back, and sour and salt on different sides. Fat wasn’t even seen as a taste but more as a sense. As it turns out, this conventional wisdom wasn’t so wise. Researchers now think there are small islands of different types of taste buds spread around the tongue and—get this—even on the soft palate, upper esophagus, and epiglottis. Our taste guru, Linda Bartoshuk, says, “If you want to prove this to yourself, put a little salt on your finger and touch it to the area about halfway back in your mouth where the hard palate meets the soft palate.” We did, and she’s right; you can taste salt there. When you think about it, this built-in redundancy makes sense. The ability to taste sweet versus bitter—which allowed our ancient ancestors to differentiate what was edible from what was poisonous—was crucial for allowing our species to get where it is today. So what’s going on when suddenly your mouth feels like it’s full of aluminum, or when everything starts tasting like cardboard? And, more importantly, what can we do to bring the sense of taste back to life? Normally, the brain combines sensory input from the taste buds and the sense of smell, and the resulting neuronal input is taste. It’s kind of like a color wheel; mix blue and yellow in equal portions and you get green, without fail. Now imagine the painter who one day starts mixing paints only to find that blue and yellow are yielding a very pale shade of green, certainly not the tone she wants and expects. Frustrated and annoyed, she throws down her palette in disgust and stalks off to watch Judge Judy. So it is with taste buds damaged by cancer therapy: Their sensory output becomes distorted or impaired, so the brain can only pick up a whisper of the flavor and therefore produces a taste in conflict with what the eater expects. As a result, your alltime favorite treat, say warm banana bread fresh from the oven, may look delicious, and it may even smell delicious, but when you taste it, it’s anything but. So you push back from the table, disappointed and disengaging from one of the most important things you must do during treatment: eat. And as for those phantom metallic tastes?

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the-cancer-fighting  
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