Joke Boon: The chef who cannot scent or style

(CNN) – How would things taste if you lost your sense of smell?

This question has become surprisingly common this year.

Anosmia – or “olfactory blindness” – is a condition believed to affect approximately 5% of the population.

However, with the loss of the smell and / or taste of two of the recognized symptoms of Covid-19, this previously little-known condition has come into focus worldwide.

Not only have people not been able to smell or taste while contracting the virus, but many people report long-term loss of these senses, meaning their world is still tasteless even after they recover from other symptoms.

So what if you suddenly lose your sense of smell and taste?

Dutch cookbook author Joke (pronounced Yok-e) Boon suffers from anosmia – the inability to smell. She lost her sense of smell at the age of four – likely a combination of having a severe cold and having her tonsils removed.

And although your tongue has retained its taste perception, due to the lack of smell it can only vaguely differentiate between the five basic aromas – sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami – and fat. Doctors say she has lost around 94% of her taste buds.

Even so, she has written five cookbooks. How does someone without a sense of smell experience food? For Boon, it’s mostly with her brain – through the use of a facial nerve.

Hold your nerve

Starting from the ear and branching out in three strands towards the eyes, nose and jaw, the trigeminal nerve is responsible for sensory perception in the face. It should protect us from dangers – stimulated, for example, by smoke and ammonia. However, certain food ingredients can also trigger it.

“You know the feeling when you eat too much wasabi at once?” says blessing. “I often use this nerve to” taste “my food, I play with it. In this way I can also feel ginger, mint, mustard and pepper. Pepper and ginger are warm and tingly, while mint and horseradish create a cold feeling . “”

The appearance of food is also crucial. “Color is very important,” she says. “I don’t like white food because white isn’t a taste for me. The texture and sound of food also play a big role. A walnut makes a different sound than a hazelnut.

The sound of a hazelnut

“It has to do with the amount of fat – a hazelnut cracks hard, a walnut a soft hit. If you listen, you’ll hear the difference between a carrot and an apple.”

Despite her condition, Boon always loved cooking. “Food was very important in my childhood,” she says. “My mother survived the Dutch hunger winter [a famine from 1944-1945] So it was all about food.

“Although I couldn’t taste anything, I wanted to take part. I started experimenting as a student and began to write down my recipes.”

It’s no surprise that she prefers kitchens that use spices or strong flavors. Mexican and Indian dishes are among their favorites. “I love the layers of spice they use in their dishes and the different types of peppers,” she says.

“I also like Scandinavian cuisine, which uses a lot of onions, fennel, mustard, beets and horseradish.”

Living with anosmia

Joke Boons Satay Burger (see recipe below)

With kind permission of Saskia Lelieveld

Outside of the kitchen, anosmia can be an equally distressing condition that affects people’s confidence.

“I’m always scared that I smell,” says Boon. “And I had to come up with other methods of judging people I meet because you usually use smell to tell (in a split second) whether you like people or not.”

She receives a lot of messages from fellow sufferers who are struggling with the disease. “Sometimes they are suicidal,” she says. “They tell me that nothing seems right anymore.

“You become alienated from the world when you lose your ability to smell. Suddenly the world as you know it no longer makes sense because you can no longer perceive it.”

However, those who have no experience with the disease tend to refer to it as “happy” – because, for example, they can no longer smell less pleasant smells.

“Or they try to comfort me by saying that deafness or blindness is worse,” she says.

“But it’s not the battle of the senses. We have five of them for a reason. And if you can’t smell you lose the taste too, so you actually lose two of them.”

Feel the tingling sensation

To help her fellow sufferers, Boon began putting together her recipes in 2010.

“It seemed like there was one method that underlying my cooking, mostly with the color, texture, temperature, sound, and spice that you can feel – the tingling sensation,” she says.

My dishes are very flavorful. “The collection became her first cookbook. She has now written five.

There is one ingredient that Boon likes the most, and not because it’s her last name (“Boon” is Dutch for bean).

“I love beans!” She says. “They’re creamy on the inside and there’s so much variety. Brown beans with bacon, onions, piccalilli and some boiled potatoes. I’ll be happy if you serve me this dish.”

When it comes to drinks, you think that alcohol is the ideal remedy for people with anosmia – not only can you feel it in your mouth and throat, but it also affects your entire body. And while Boon doesn’t drink much personally – “Fortunately, I’m not good with alcohol or I would drink all the time” – she loves champagne.

“Champagne is my favorite because of the bubbles – especially a pink one because it looks nice.” Sparkling water is another favorite because of the bubbles.

What not to eat

There are some things she won’t eat. “Eating is emotion, so I don’t like organs and black pudding – because I was once a nurse,” she says. “I don’t eat much meat – I get sad when I see cattle being transported.” Slimy is another no-no. “Snails – urgh! Or okra if it’s not cooked properly.”

Boon’s message to those who have lost their sense of smell: focus on stimulating the trigeminal nerve and taste with your brain and intellect. Cook your own food so you can decide what’s in it.

And most importantly, buy a smoke detector, fire extinguisher, and fire blanket ASAP.

“Not being able to smell is unpleasant,” she admits. “But you can have a comfortable life if you know how.”

A stimulating recipe

Vegetarian satay burger with peanut mayonnaise, acar and seroendeng by De Vega Optie (The Vegetarian Choice) by Joke Boon

Makes four


For the burgers:

75 grams of boiled kidney beans, drained

1 onion, cut

1 clove of garlic, peeled

150gr5.30 oz salted peanuts

15gr 0.50 ounce oatmeal

1 egg

½ tbsp sambal badjak

¼ tsp chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

½ teaspoon five-spice powder

½ teaspoon ginger powder

Oil for frying

For the peanut mayonnaise:

2 tbsp mayonnaise

1 tbsp peanut butter (crispy or smooth)

½ tbsp sambal badjak

½ tbsp sweet soy sauce

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 teaspoon ketchup

1 cucumber

To garnish:

2 tbsp seroendeng

4 tbsp acar, drained

1 bag of crackers

4 soft rolls


If you’re using canned kidney beans, put them in a colander, rinse them under water, and let them drain well. Put the onion, garlic, peanuts, beans, oatmeal, egg, sambal, and all the spices in a food processor and whisk until a smooth paste is formed.

Shape the mixture into four burgers. Let rest in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a pan and bake the burgers for 8-10 minutes on both sides.

For the peanut mayonnaise, stir all the ingredients together.

Cut the cucumber into thin slices. Cut the rolls open and briefly toast them (2-3 minutes) in a dry grill pan. Brush the lower half of a roll with the peanut mayonnaise and place a few cucumber slices on top.

Place the satay burger on top of the cucumber slices and pour a spoonful of peanut mayo on top of the burger. Sprinkle with ½ tablespoon of Seroendeng.

Top up with a tablespoon of drained acar and place the top half of the roll on top.

Serve the burger on a plate with some acar and krupuk on the side.

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