This week sees the opening of the first flavour therapy centre in Belgium, a private enterprise in Zwijndrecht in Antwerp province.
Loss of the sense of smell and taste is one of the symptoms of a Covid-19 infection, and can persist even after the patient has recovered otherwise. It is also one of the after-effects of chemotherapy for cancer.
Flavour therapy consists in re-introducing patients to the flavours they once knew, so as to revive their sense of taste.
However, put aside any thought of bacchanalian feasts. The approach is more scientific than gastronomic.
“We don’t make dishes, we provide all kinds of flavours in bottles,” the owner of LiveTasteEat, Lobke Van den Wijngaert, told VRT Radio 2. A graduate of one of Belgium’s celebrated hotel schools, she described herself as a gastro-engineering chef.
“We start with the most refined flavour and build up to the most robust. Thanks to these recipes, we can allow patients to eat well again.”
Each person’s experience of loss of smell and taste is different. Some recover spontaneously in a matter of one or two weeks, others suffer longer. Both senses are closely linked – we also have flavour receptors in our nose and nasopharynx – and the loss takes away most of the pleasure of eating.
Each patient’s treatment plan, likewise, will be tailored to their personal situation.
Covid-19 is just the latest culprit; the problem has been around longer than the virus.
“In 2017 we started a study for cancer patients treated with chemotherapy. Those results were very positive,” she said. “During the first lockdown, we heard various reports about loss of taste and smell in corona patients, so we wanted to help them too. They also have the right to enjoy good food.”
As well as therapy, said Van den Wijngaert, the centre will conduct further research into the problem of loss of the sense of taste as a result of Covid-19.