What form of butter, a seemingly subtle ingredient, has the most developed potential for flavor?
Cultured butter differs from so-called sweet butter in its amplified flavor and tang created when fresh cream is seeded with lactic cultures and allowed to “ripen” before churning. Fermentation produces the aromatic compound diacetyl, which imparts buttery and milky notes, magnifying the inherent flavor already present in butterfat.
How can I use cooking method to intensify the qualities of sweet potatoes?
Baking sweet potatoes in their jackets in foil packets, caramelizes the sugars, concentrates the flavor, and creates a luxurious texture (we perceive the “mouthfeel” as all the more satiny because of the sweetness!). Moist varieties, such as deep orange-colored Jewel and Garnet sweet potatoes, convert 75% of their starch to sugar when cooked, becoming super syrupy.
Without olfactory feedback, I sometimes forget there’s something cooking as soon as I walk out of the kitchen. How can I equip my kitchen so I feel more secure?
A Dutch oven is my failsafe piece of equipment. An enamel-coated cast iron pot with a cover, it facilitates slow, even cooking with much lower risk of burning or scorching the contents I may leave unattended.
*The sweet potatoes for this recipe—as forgiving as they are—can be baked in a Dutch oven with gorgeous results.
What food ingredient would make a good addition to my smell-training practice?
Beets have a bold, saturated color, sweetness and crunch that actively engages our senses. But we’re also keenly sensitive to their muted scent—suggestive of earthy, clean, organic matter. That’s the smell of geosmin, also the molecule responsible for the archetypal earth-essence smell of wet ground after rainfall. Humans can detect geosmin in extremely low concentrations. I added beetroot powder (found in health food stores) to my smell-training kit very early on.
Sauerkraut arouses my appetite and satiates my hunger. Why is it so satisfying in spite of my smell loss?
Fermentation releases the full umami potential of cabbage (a good source of glutamate) with its rewarding ability to linger on the palate. Raw, unpasteurized curry kraut is a superstar sensation-wise: from “savoriness,” to sour and salty, to crunchy and effervescent, to its brilliant yellow color, fiery red chilies, and aromatic seasoning. HOSTA HILL makes some of the best krauts on the planet—each variety in unique, vibrant technicolor.
From Leah: We never know what a person will bring of themselves to a successful approach to their condition. But all successful approaches have in common an individual’s sense of discovery. For me, the special adventure of discovering my flavor system in the absence of smell tapped a deep well of curiosity, that outweighed my fear of the new and wholly unimaginable sensory perspective anosmia gave me. We are flavor-seeking creatures. Nothing had ever forced my hand so powerfully to use my sense of discovery!
The Anosmia Sandwich was the first recipe I wrote, at the beginning of my smell loss—once I had committed myself to a positive outcome. That commitment allowed me to be alert to, appreciative of, and build upon the reality of my perceptions. The recipe is very simple—a whimsical, open-face number that works with fundamental perceptions of color, texture, touch and taste. To the left, I’ve included some of the questions I was curious about when designing this dish. At a time when food was an unfamiliar stranger, The Anosmia Sandwich was my welcome friend and culinary mascot.
© Leah Holzel
From Leah: The sense of smell is the dominant contributor to our perception of flavor. As a consequence, anosmia deeply disturbs our experience of food as a source of pleasure and comfort—but also food’s ability to stimulate our appetite, satiate hunger, and restore physical equilibrium. Regaining a sense of our own well being involves, in part, recruiting facets of our broader flavor system that function independent of olfaction, such as our sense of taste.
Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomato and Ancho Chili Pesto harnesses the taste of umami—that savory sensation named for “essence of deliciousness.” Umami’s positive characteristics—enhancing dimensionality and amplitude while lingering on the palate—offer the potential for a sustained, rewarding eating experience in the absence of smell.
Five reasons to get excited about ingredients again:
© Leah Holzel
Makes 2 cups pesto
From Leah: The food-frenzied holiday entertaining season and its social celebrations can be a daunting time for people navigating anosmia. This Golden Biscotti recipe was designed for those of you at loss to fall back on cherished holiday traditions, or not quite sure how to forge new ones—to embolden you, and support your effort to be confident cooks, bakers, hosts, and eaters.
© Leah Holzel
Makes about 3 dozen
From Leah: When I was a kid, my mom made panna cotta for just about every dinner party she threw—her hybrid version calling for not one, but three forms of milk (two fresh, one fermented). What an opportunity for my fledgling flavor system to learn to appreciate their distinct contributions!
When we think of an ingredient that will exercise our flavor perception, something as subtle as milk isn’t the first that comes to mind. But for those of us with smell loss, that very subtlety can be its strength, because it requires a quality of our attention that bolder foods may not. The beauty being, that the trove of food memories and emotions we have to draw from are our custom-made keys to the doorway of dairy’s delicate flavor.
Like the dairy it’s made from, panna cotta is a milky-white flavor canvas, ideal for infusing with potent aromatics (vanilla is the most traditional), and accenting with a colorful, punchy sauce. This sauce celebrates the farmers’ market harvest: a quick trick to intensify the flavor of ripe stone fruit; the color and spice spectrum of sweet peppers and hot; and fresh mint’s illusion of cool.
© Leah Holzel
Dehydrate peaches in the microwave for 3 minutes to concentrate their flavor, while intensifying the color and preserving much of their fresh-fruit juiciness.
Sample the changes in texture and consistency as gelatin transforms the panna cotta over time—from fluid to spoon-coating to sloshy, to its final firm-but-wobbly form.
Add vanilla and coriander seed essential oils to your smell-training practice. But get a quick start by using crushed seeds and vanilla extract called for in this recipe.
Tune in to the vitality and charisma of fresh food. Smell loss disrupts the most direct line of communication between food and ourselves—flavor. Interacting with newly-picked produce in a farmer’s market setting is experiencing fruit, vegetables, and herbs in their italicized form. Develop sensitivity to the many ways food is trying to get your attention.
Delve into date syrup. It has a deep ebony color and a sweet-tart “over-ripe fruitiness,” reminiscent of molasses, raisins, and prunes. Here, it’s a nod to syrupy aged balsamic vinegar—a condiment classically paired with panna cotta.