I see them all the time, in every city I visit. Chefs and kitchen-help smoking in the alley or outside of a restaurant’s back door. Even the culinary school downtown is overrun with smokers. I’ve never understood how this could be because it seemed to me that cigarettes had to have some sort of effect on taste buds.
Now, a study shows some very interesting data on the subject.
Smokers who want to really enjoy their favorite meal will have to kick the habit
A new study led by researchers at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki finds a difference in the shape and number of taste buds on the tongues of smokers and non-smokers.
Researchers electronically stimulated the tongues of 62 Greek soldiers to determine their taste sensitivity. They found the 28 smokers scored worse than the 34 non-smokers.
The scientists then examined their tongues and discovered the smokers’ tongues had flatter taste buds and a lower blood supply.
From the scientific journal:
Bitter taste recognition was wrong among 13.4, 19.8 and 26.5 % of non-smokers, current smokers and former smokers, respectively (p = 0.043). The adjusted odds ratio (95 % confidence interval) of correct bitter taste recognition was 0.31 (0.14–0.69) among former and 0.74 (0.35–1.55) among current smokers (p = 0.016), compared to non-smokers while adjusting for gender, age, year of assessment and bitter taste intensity. The distribution of caffeine’s bitter taste intensity was bimodal regardless of the smoking status.
This reminds me of the study Linda Bartoshuk did that linked sensitivity to spiciness to the quantity of taste buds where she found that those who experience spiciness the hottest may have more taste buds by a factor of 100. I am pretty sure that too many chefs are short on taste buds anyway and then with smoking ruining those that they do have, it leaves us that have a large quantity of healthy taste buds to be served food that we can’t taste because of all of the seasoning hiding it.
Although, I guess there needs to be someone left to cook at Applebees for people like my mother-in-law, who prefers to start every meal by saturating it in soy sauce. I also feel somewhat vindicated after all of the teasing I received from my Arizona in-laws about being a food wimp from Oregon, who “thinks everything besides lettuce is too spicy.”
It seems fairly obvious that all that hot smoke would damage/change the taste buds. Still, I’d wager that salt sensitivity is far more dependent on genetics.
Dude, you could sponsor a scientific study. Now that would be a useful review.
Food Dude says
I’m terrible at counting taste buds!
One study of 62 people using some unspoken of device and someone is convinced? Seems it’s awfully dependent on factors we aren’t told about.
Seems the study is implying you can determine taste sensitivity by passing an electrical current through the tongue… That doesn’t make any sense.
I’ve read, in more than a few places, that it (smoking) doesn’t seem to have an effect on taste. In fact, the “coffeegeek” himself, Mark Prince, reportedly smoked a clove cigarette (PUNGENT, hot burning little things) right before a “Super taster” test that has been established by the SCAA. He passed it. He’s one of a very small percentage of people who are able to pass that test.
Not saying I know either way. Just think there needs to be a WHOLE lot more testing before people pass judgment on a smoker’s ability to taste.
In my experience, right after a smoke, taste IS affected. 30 min. later seems my senses are back. It also depends on how one smokes, exhaling/inhaling through the nose would seriously hinder tasting, obviously.
Cooks and other restaurant workers smoke because it’s a high stress environment with rushes and lulls. And most people are relatively young in the industry.
More of a problem than smoking for over-salting is that cooks are constantly tasting and so their palates get over-worked. Or you may just like things under-salted and so you think “everyone” oversalts their food.
other things that affect/impair you ability to taste:
alcohol(even a little)
subconscious influence from people around/with you
level of hunger
while we are at it, how about some things that make dining more enjoyable/make food taste better:
alcohol(even a little)
subconscious influence from people around/with you
level of hunger
the problem I see more often than smoking or a chefs palate being off, is a diner tasting something and having no idea what the flavors they are tasting are. Instead of just enjoying it or asking what is in it, they say stupid ass shit like “man, I really like the way the anise and cardamom come through in the nose” meanwhile, neither of those flavors are present!
As to the salt issue, most people at home drastically underseason their food, and hence when they dine out think that everything is too salty. That isnt necessarily a bad thing, as long as the person recognizes that and doesnt denigrate the restaurant for the seasoning. Lets face it, most chefs in upper tier restaurants have better palates than you and I. Thats why they are doing the cooking and we are doing the eating.
Steve Wino says
I have to take issue with your defense of heavily salted food by saying chefs have better palates. I am not hypersensitive to salt but not infrequently get dishes at well regarded restaurants that are overly salted. It is like balance in a good wine: you don’t have to be a winemaker too recognize when wine, or food, is out of balance. There’s always some room for disagreement but don’t screw up good ingredients with too much salt or substitute salt for the whole range of seasonings that add multiple dimensions to a flavor profile.
there is a difference between “heavily salted” and “overly salted”. Its a fine line indeed, but a difference remains. While mistakes, such as overly salted can be and are made by even the greatest of chefs, they are just that…mistakes. They tend to not be the norm. That being said, if everywhere you go, the food seems overly salted, you need to realize that it isn’t EVERY SINGLE RESTAURANT….its you. Also, if 20 people say the seasoning is fine and you find it overly seasoned, again, thats you.
Steve Wino says
You draw a distinction between “heavily salted” and “overly salted” (not sure what your distinction is other than the proverbial “grain of salt”) but you don’t appear to recognize the difference between “not infrequently” and “everywhere you go.” It is easy to dismiss my comment by distorting it but it is not very accurate. I also don’t think letting 20 other people be the judge for how to season food is the way to go. If that’s how we judged good food, we’d likely be eating at the level of the lowest common denominator. My palate generally votes with those who favor nuance and restraint, even though I also enjoy blasts of intense flavor in ethnic cuisine.
It’s funny that you bring up the idea of the common denominator. That happens to be exactly what I was getting at by saying if everywhere you go the food is too salty, then its you(the common denominator in all the equations). 20 was just a number to make a point, lets make it 20 restaurant critics or 200 or 2000, the point remains the same. When your experience and interprutation fall well outside that of everyone else, you have to be willing to accept the possibility that its your tastes that are hypersensitive and not that everyone else has a shite palate.
while I think we all have run into overly salted dishes, I do not see it as a trend. I would say the other end of the scale is more problematic, that being the un(der)salted dishes. When a chef chooses to dumb something down or blandify(just making up words today!) a dish by leaving it underseasoned there are a couple of possibilities: one, they dont recognize or lack the experience to season adequetly, or two, dont care enough to get it right. Neither of those lead me to think that is a particularly good chef. So while nuance and restraint are great, its easy to cover for dull food with those descriptors.
Steve Wino says
I don’t want to have to shout it but I said “not infrequently” and not “everywhere you go” or “a trend.” The issue in this string of posts was raised by reference to the possible diminished taste sensation resulting from impaired sense of taste from either smoking or tasting repeatedly throughout a shift. Add to that cooking mistakes, as you point out, or simply poor skills and/or a less than stellar palate, a possibility your post doesn’t acknowledge, and then add to it the fact that there are physiological differences and personal cultural and historical differences contributing to an individual palate, and you end up with some degree of variability and inconsistency. So, this not a black and white line (sure, I’ll throw in the pepper with the salt). Regardless whether there are 20 or 200 people, they are going to represent different numbers of receptors and different preferences. The goal then is to hit the sweet spot within a range of convergence between the palate of the chef and patrons.
Gosh sorry to disagree, but salt is something that (other than in a few specific cases) can be easily added. In other words there really is no difference between the salt you throw on top of a dish and the salt that is cooked into a dish, with a few notable exceptions, which, I believe, have nothing to do with saying a dish is “undersalted.” The only gastronomic reason to add salt while cooking is to cause veggies and meat to ‘sweat,’ that is, to exude liquid. This can be very desirable to achieve a certain texture or crispness of vegetable . . or any of a number of other results. However, this has nothing to do with the finished taste of a dish, only the presence of liquid and perhaps the texture of the cooked item(s.) Cooked salt does not metamorphose or become transformed in any way shape or form. It just sits there as it always does, tasting like salt. So:
If you think a dish is undersalted, by all means pick up your salt shaker or salt grinder and add away. But like smoke or other pollution, once a cook has locked excess salt into a dish, there is nothing that those of us who have a lower threshold can do but be revolted. There’s no taking away salt, only adding it. So what is so hard about that? I think “undersalted” is an absurd critique of a dish. Easily added, impossible to avoid. Why inflict your “salt tooth” on the rest of us? Everyone has a different tolerance and need for sodium. Why should there be one ideal level of salinity? Now if you want to talk about the lack of savory elements – – fresh vegetable tastes, herbs, interesting meat carmelization, and so on . . . well then I would say you could legitimately criticize a dish for being bland or underseasoned. But salt? It is the refuge of talentless cooks the world over.
Salt and pepper are ingredients.
Salt levels are like spicy food levels. Personal preferences. Personal tastes. Extremes at either end of the scale. No Chef is ever going to nail it for these people. But if one feeds 100,000 people a year one gets a really good idea of what works for 80% of them – and that may not be you.
Just do us all a favor and at least eat a mouthful or two before you completely kill it with the salt shaker.
Your information is simply factually inaccurate regarding salting throughout cooking vs. a customer salting at the table.
Salt dissolves, salt absorbs, salt reacts.
Salting a dish throughout creates a dish seasoned throughout. Pouring salt on at the table creates a dish unseasoned throughout with a layer of salt on top.
The caramelization process is indeed one instance of a situation where early salting makes a noticable difference but it does in just about every other case as well.
Try this- make 2 foil packets full of shallots, with a splash of olive oil a sprig of rosemary, thyme, a bay leaf & a slice of lemon. On one do a grind of pepper and a generous pinch of sea salt. Leave the other unseasoned.Seal the packets and bake at 350 until tender. Taste the 2 packets, then season the unseasoned one and taste again. They are in fact very different.
That is not to say that what is perfectly seasoned to others may not be outrageously oversalted to you… but that would be the point in finding a places that seasons (or does not season) to your taste.
You say “why should you be subjected to the “salt-tooth” of others?” Why should others be subjected to a “bland-tooth”? The truth is no one is “subjected” to these things. You choose to go out, and you choose to go to certain places. Simply choose to go to places that cater to your desire for unseasoned food.
Why the anger when so many others are obviously enjoying what you do not?
I’m not angry. I am generally voting with my wallet and avoiding most restaurants because they do not accord with my taste. I don’t fault anyone else who likes food loaded with salt, fat and sugar. I just think that cooking that way takes much less talent than drawing out more complex, savory flavors which I prefer. If a chef uses salt to this end, congratulations.
In some ways the use of salt reminds me very much of smoking, in that it is only somewhat a matter of taste, and largely a matter of addiction. I used to smoke, heavily. Fortunately that was many decades ago. Now the simple smell of a cigarette, even on the open street, repulses me. Similarly, I used to eat salt freely and mindlessly. I went through a long period of withdrawal because I live with someone who can’t handle salt well at all, and I do most of the cooking. Now it tastes like it is burning my mouth when it is (in my opinion, to my tastes) overdone. The salt ‘button’ has been pushed so hard and for so long that it crowds out other nuances, and the addict’s first reaction is to add more without even tasting a forkful of food, or to complain that a dish is ‘undersalted.’
Even in the instances when food is delivered to the table ‘undersalted,’ I have always been able to correct this by the addition of salt. After all, we don’t say, “This plateful of food did not have enough salt added in the cooking process to properly wilt the veggies or penetrate its various layers.” We say, “this could use some salt.” And we add it. Presumably if it is distributed nicely, the flavors still combine in the mouth. Maybe the dish would have been better with more salt somewhere during preparation, but I have never seen a diner perceive this upon delivery of his or her order of food.
As to my factually inaccurate information regarding the interaction of salt with food, that is all fine and good, and I would not argue with your obvious experience in this area; however, at the end of the cooking process, you’re either left with a salty taste in the food or not. So I am not arguing that salt should be omitted from cooking (I use it, judiciously, all the time in many sorts of dishes.) I would only wish that it be employed in a manner that does not paint over all those other quieter hues and tones of flavor. In all too many restaurants, in all too many dishes, salt overwhelms.
Really? This news seems like common sense to me, i know many chefs are smokers, Perhaps that is why there is so much bad food out there
OVERALL (there are variations in every demographic) chefs and cooks endure working conditions that you, the white collar worker, cannot. –long hours on your feet, heavy lifting, ergonomically tortuous knife work, holding your bladder for hours during rushes, 90 degree and above working temperatures, needing to keep more in your short term memory than is even possible, constant burns, cuts and bruises, the list could go on and on.
This is what it takes to do REAL good food, folks. Take this atmosphere away and you will have less smokers in the kitchen. It takes a compulsive personality to put up with these conditions and in some delightful cases thrive in them. So if you want less smokers in the kitchen your food can be less salty. And it will also be MEDIOCRE and oh yeah more EXPENSIVE (to make “better” working conditions you would need to hire more kitchen staff). Excellence doesn’t come from the nice, it comes from the challenge.
Ooh! Class war! Class war! Fun!
C’mon, you wussy white collar types that can’t stand the heat — defend yourselves!
I have a white collar job. I sit at my desk for 8.5 hours Monday through Friday. I do not break a sweat during my workday.
I have a pug and an SUV and a mortgage. I also have respect for people who do what I cannot.
So much for your class warfare theory.
Oh, you’re no fun anymore.
Well said my friend….well said. Very good understanding of the restaurant industry. Thank you.
You know what else effects taste?
People with BO (a very frequent occurance in pdx)
People doused in heavy cologne/perfume
That hippy bitch wearing patchouli
Upbringing (some people grow up eating highly seasoned or highly seasoned foods)
What else/how much you eating that day
What/how much you’re drinking
Drinking of too-hot beverages
Habituation (you will find yourself seasoning more intensely things you’ve become very accustomed to- like getting tolerance for chilis)
..and that just a quick list off the top of my head.
Taste is mostly aroma with only a few physical sensations actually picked up on the taste buds. Taste is based on so many personal factors it is hard not to laugh at people who decide that the way they like things seasoned is the correct way. One person may find something horribly overseasoned while another may find that person’s taste to be that of an anemic milktoast.
Food eaten on a sidewalk cafe on a busy street will taste different than food eaten indoors.
I would often accept the flavor judgement of someone who smokes than that of someone chugging a Diet Coke (can fulla chemicals) who decided that Axe Body Spray was a fine substitute for a shower while their anti-depressants kick in.
A variety of restaurants means you can chose to frequent places where the cooks’ palates match your own.
It has been an interesting privelege in 20+ years of professional cooking to watch the same person who bitches about overseasoning of certain food items dredge their delicate sashimi through a thick sludgy bowl of fake-wasabi-Kikkoman soy mixture until it is fully saturated.
Everyone has their own baggage, their own peeves. It is beyond arrogant to believe that your personal one (smoking) is worse than someone else’s (BO, drinking chemicals, etc).
Ayn Rand was a chain smoker.
For that matter so were almost all of her main characters.
But, Mr. Surely NOT John Galt….
…of what relevence is this trolling to the topic?
The topic isn’t about whether smoking is bad, or dangerous or should even be made illegal.
The topic is about whether smoking is in part responsible for professionals turning out bad food.
Go back to quoting fart jokes please.
whoa, calm down or you’ll lose your audience……bravo
Surely someone of your intellectual ability would take into consideration the people responsible for spreading the message that smoking kills. After all, you did stop the motor of the world.
Once again, just A view.
And, Galt most certainly was a smoker.
Sorry to encourage thread jacking/re-directing.
Back to what matters.
far away says
finally an Ayn Rand quote
I am sure that every chef has turned out a under or over seasoned dish a couple of times and some more than others but i think that smoking probably has a very small percentage to do with it.
granted we all know it is bad but i don’t think it can be blamed for some of the hacks that call themselves chefs today and certainly not for all the bad food out there.
Amen. I think that the problem, aside from blown-out tastebuds, might be blind belief in a few truisms of the restaurant business. They are: you can’t put too much fat in food. You can’t put too much salt in food. You can’t put too much sugar in a dessert, or chocolate, or both. All of these are patently bogus values, yet I believe they drive 90 percent or more of recipe selection in your typical eat-a-torium. A chef might say, “who wants to hear from that whiner out there who says the [fill in the blank dish] is undersalted?”
Ok this is a bit broad-brush, but still, remarkably true. Give the people what they want! More fat, sugar and salt! Just like McDonald’s, except at fourteen times the price, and of course made from ingredients with an impeccable pedigree.
“So I am not arguing that salt should be omitted from cooking (I use it, judiciously, all the time in many sorts of dishes.) I would only wish that it be employed in a manner that does not paint over all those other quieter hues and tones of flavor. In all too many restaurants, in all too many dishes, salt overwhelms.”
But in a culture where dining is entertainment you are almost speaking to a genre issue, as with film.
Artfilm, action, romance, scifi, horror… all have their place… how much violence is too much? When is cheesy Velveeta & when is it brie? Are you upset at something for what it is or upset by what it is not and you wish it to be? . It is one thing to be indignant when you go to a jacket required place w/formal service & clasical music and find hey’ve coated your food in salt, another thing altogether when you go to a bar and act suprised that they are gearing their food toward making you thirsty.