Symptom Management

Putting a Lid on Smell and Taste Disorders

By MSF Staff and reviewed by the MSF Medical Advisory Board

Does your salsa seem less zesty than usual? Your gumbo lost its punch? Don’t blame the chef just yet. Your MS may have something to do with it.

Neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, and MS can interfere with smell and taste function. People with these diseases (and the family and friends who care for them) may notice that they have reduced appetite, less interest in food, and weight loss; but they may not realize the cause, according to Ronald DeVere, M.D., director of the Smell and Taste Center in Austin, Texas.

Some research studies have suggested that 20 to 30 percent of people with MS have mild to moderate smell loss on testing. The degree of smell loss is associated with the number of MS plaques in the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain, the areas that are responsible for odors. Nonetheless, it is estimated that only 5 percent of people with MS who have smell loss are actually aware of it. Since MS attacks and plaques in the brain can come and go, smell test results can also fluctuate.

One study of people with taste disorders from strokes and MS showed areas of brain injury on MRI scans in the regions of the brain important for taste recognition. In very rare cases, taste problems can be the first symptom in MS.

For most people, the most troublesome part of having a smell and taste disorder is related to the enjoyment of food and drink. Even if you never completely recover from your smell and taste disorder, you can have much of that enjoyment back with a new awareness about food preparation, says DeVere, a neurologist who has a taste disorder.

DeVere teamed with chef and food consultant Marjorie Calvert to write the book Navigating Smell and Taste Disorders (Demos, 2011). It is one in a series of Neurology Now Books produced by the American Academy of Neurology and includes 36 recipes along with information on the smell and taste system, treatments, and tips for food preparation. Here is a sampling of tips and recipes:

Top Tips for Enhancing Taste

1. Choose foods with varying colors and textures. For example, plain consommé (broth) soups can be replaced with tortilla soup, which has increased thickness, crunchy texture, and various spices, as well as different-colored vegetables to give more taste appeal. It emphasizes texture, temperature, and spicy and salty tastes.

2. Add spicy condiments, like peppers, horseradish, mustard, or salsa.

3. Increase the flavor of fish, poultry, and meat by marinating in sweet fruit juices, sweet wine, sweet and sour sauce, or spicy salad dressing. 

4. Increase the savory taste of meats and poultry by using small amounts of MSG. (Avoid MSG if you experience allergy-like reactions or migraines.)

5. Serve foods hot and steaming to allow the aroma to fill the dining area. 

6. Chew slowly, and move food slowly around your mouth in order to stimulate all your taste and sensory receptors.

7. Alternate bites of different foods throughout the meal.

8. Eat tart foods such as oranges and grapefruits, and drink tart beverages, such as lemonade and grapefruit juice with their pulp. Remember, the ability to taste sweet and sour is usually normal in the majority of people with taste and smell loss.

Recipes to Help Enhance Your Smell and Taste

Barbecue Chicken Wraps

(Serves 4, Prep time: 45 minutes, Easy)

Great texture (bacon, tortilla, and chicken), varied temperature, and spice (jalapeno peppers and barbecue sauce) provide all the necessities for stimulation of the normal sensory system of the mouth. This recipe was given to us by a patient with total loss of smell and inability to recognize any flavors.


2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded

2 cups barbecue sauce

¼ cup crumbled bacon

4 10-inch flour tortillas

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup creamy deli coleslaw

½ cup chopped pickles

¼ cup chopped jalapeno peppers


In a saucepan, simmer chicken and barbecue sauce together for about 10 minutes. Add bacon and stir until heated through. Remove from heat. Heat tortillas as directed on package. Spoon chicken mixture into center of each tortilla. Top with ¼ of the cheese. Add a spoonful of coleslaw to each side of the tortilla, and add chopped pickles and jalapenos as desired. Fold up the bottom of the tortilla and roll it up. Serve immediately.

Barbecued Ground Beef

(Serves 6, Prep time: 1 hour, Easy)

This recipe can be enjoyed by all. The texture is excellent, and the spices (mustard, ketchup, and vinegar) can be increased for those with more impaired smell and taste.


1 pound ground beef

1 cup chopped green pepper

1 cup diced onion

1 cup diced carrot

1 cup diced celery

2 tablespoons prepared mustard

1 cup ketchup

1 tablespoon vinegar

2 tablespoon liquid smoke

1 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon salt


Brown meat and mix in the rest of the ingredients. Simmer on low for 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Serve on toasted hamburger buns.

 (Last reviewed 8/2011)