Meet the woman for whom coffee tastes like chalk

Reading this over your morning coffee?

Then spare a thought for Nell Frizzell. She has suffered from anosmia, parosmia and phantosmia – the “ugly sisters” of taste and smell disorders. For her, a mug of coffee tastes like chalk, while porridge tastes of burning plastic and eating cake is like scoffing a handful of soil.

Is it common?

While anosmia – the loss of smell – can be easily understood by anyone who has ever had a cold, parosmia – to suffer from smell and taste distortions that can turn a cheese sandwich into a slab of mint – is harder to imagine. These disorders affect around 5 per cent of the population.

A ghastly affliction...

And it could happen to any of us. Ms Frizzell, 29, has been battling the disorder since falling off her bike and hitting her head. “I managed to obliterate my sense of smell, dropkick my ability to taste and, as a consequence, pour wet concrete across my emotional landscape with a head injury,” she says.

What were the signs?

For weeks after the accident, she had the smell of burnt plastic and chemical smoke in the back of her mouth. And despite being a lifelong vegetarian, lots of foods began to taste like bacon: muesli, chewing gum, orange juice…

How do people cope?

As Ms Frizzell puts it: “The whole thing can feel bleaker than a cold Ginsters Scotch egg.”

Is there a treatment?

Yes, there is. Chrissi Kelly of charity Fifth Sense has created a programme of smell retraining, based on “smelling mindfully”.

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