Photo/Illutration A researcher on Feb. 8 holds one of the small pots of fragrances used during tests in a clinic in Nice, France, to help determine how patients' sense of smell and taste have been degraded since they contracted COVID-19. (AP Photo)

Is there anyone in the world who can accurately name all the spices in curry and their amounts by just licking a tiny amount of the dish?

Yokichi, the protagonist of “Maho wo kakerareta shita” (a tongue under a spell), a children's story written by Naoko Awa, can identify all the spices in curry--ginger, garlic, cinnamon, clove. ...

Dwarfs living in a basement give his tongue the magical power by putting a leaf on it and chanting a spell. With this marvelous tongue, Yokichi can quickly recreate the specialty of any upscale restaurant.

When I read the book in my infancy, I was enchanted by the amazing tongue and wished to have it myself. My memory of the book was awakened recently when a friend in Italy who caught the novel coronavirus last spring contacted me to let me know how she was doing.

“When I eat with my eyes shut, I can't tell the difference between pizza, pasta and bread,” she said.

She is still suffering from a profound loss of taste and smell eight months after she recovered from the disease. She says coffee tastes like gasoline and meat tastes like metal.

Moreover, excrement smells good, while tap water smells so bad that she now hates taking a shower.

It's as if the virus has put a curse on her tongue and nose. It has been reported in Britain and other countries that loss of smell and taste is a fairly common aftereffect of COVID-19 among young people and women.

In Japan, a health ministry research team has started an investigation into the diminished sense of smell linked to COVID-19. But the cause and the actual state of the health problem are frustratingly unclear.

Possibly, some people are trying to live with this problem by rationalizing that it is less serious than symptoms such as breathlessness and hair loss.

But the senses of smell and taste are vital for the quality of life. Loss of smell and taste could pose a life-threatening risk if it causes loss of appetite or the inability to detect dangers in the environment, such as gas leaks.

Let us hope that scientists will soon develop a magical therapy to cure this problem so that patients will regain their senses of smell and taste and enjoy eating again even if their tongues have no magical power.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 28

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.