Joke Boon is a chef who can’t smell or taste
Dutch cookbook writer Joke (pronounced Yok-e) Boon suffers from anosmia — the inability to smell. She lost her sense of smell at the age of four, which means she can vaguely distinguish between the five basic flavours: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami. Her lack of smell didn’t stop her from becoming a renowned chef and the author of five cookbooks. So how exactly Boon is able to do this after losing 94% of her tasting perception?
Hold behold, the answer lies in her facial nerves. Confused? Let me explain.
Starting from the ear and branching out in three strands towards your eyes, nose and jaw, the trigeminal nerve is responsible for sensory perception in the face. It’s meant to protect us from danger — stimulated by, for example, smoke and ammonia. But certain food ingredients can also set it off.
Boon in an interview with CNN said, “I use this nerve a lot to ‘taste’ my food, I play with it. I can also feel ginger, mint, mustard and pepper this way. Pepper and ginger are warm and tingling, whereas mint and horseradish create a cold sensation.” For Boon, the look of the food is crucial, too. “Color is very important”, she says. “I don’t like white food because for me white equals no flavour.
Despite of her condition, Boon always liked to cook. “Food was very important during my childhood,” she says. “My mother survived the Dutch Hunger Winter [a famine from 1944-1945] so everything revolved around food.” Even though I couldn’t taste anything, I wanted to participate. I started experimenting when I was a student and began to write down my recipes.” Boon relishes cuisines that use spices or strong flavouring. Mexican and Indian dishes are among her favourites. “I really love the layers of spices they use in their dishes and the different types of peppers,” she says. “I also like Scandinavian cuisine where they use a lot of onions, fennel, mustard, beets and horseradish.”
Featured image: carolabaktzoethoudertjes