Lunchtime poll – follow your nose
April 11th, 2011
01:00 PM ET
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I sniff my food. I'm a food sniffer. I assume I'm not the only one out there, but since I don't tend to notice other folks with their faces all up in their scungilli bowl the second it hits the table, I'll assume (as I often do) that this behavior is out of the ordinary.

Fans of the TV show M*A*S*H may recall that much was made of surgeon Hawkeye Pierce's tendency to smell the contents of his tray before taking a bite. Seeing as the Korean War-era mess hall rations were generally portrayed as grim, at best, this seems like a largely preventative measure.

I do it for pleasure. It's often said that you eat with your eyes, but so many of the most delicious foods - stews, stews, gravies, mashes, braises - can present like a pile of glop. Not so with scent. On rare occasions a dish's flavor may not live up to its aromatic advance, or a reek may belie the delights of a particular cheese. Generally speaking, though, if it smells like heaven, it'll taste that way, too.

And even if the olfactory aspects ain't all that, I still find that smelling my food - heck, even some of my cocktails and almost always my wine - adds an extra dimension to the meal. It brings elements to the fore that may play more subtly on the palate. It evokes place and time and memory in a powerful, evocative, often emotional way. It allows a moment of pause and calm and gratitude for the food before me - and that's nothing to turn my nose up at.

soundoff (92 Responses)
  1. The_Mick

    Whether we realize it or not, smell is very strongly tied to taste – one reason foods often don't taste as good when we have a cold.

    April 12, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  2. Jugger

    I always sniff my food before I eat it, whether at a resturant or at a friends house. I take a fork/spoonfull, close my eyes for a second and give it a quick and light sniff. One of my friends asked me why I did this. I told them that you gain so much information from your nose, it really tells you what you can expect from the food (I followed this up with, "This smells delicious"). Why do you think so many ingrediants chefs use are called "aromatics"? It's for the enchancement of the dish from the sense of smell.

    April 12, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  3. jbirdPA

    A large part of the flavor of a food comes from how it smells (hold your nose while you eat and you'll see how greatly the flavor is diminished) because the nose has a wider range of variables than the tongue has. The smell, and by extension the flavor, of food is greatly expanded and made more complex by bringing the nose into it. Your nose brings out nuances your tongue cannot grasp.

    If you REALLY like food, you eat with your eyes, nose and mouth... – j

    April 12, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  4. Chef Sun

    I train my staff to sniff everything before and after cooking. If I have a cold or a congested nose, I make sure my sous chef tests out things. It's safety, quality control and enjoyment that is involved. You'd be a fool if you ate a raw oyster or clam before smelling it first.

    Chef Eddie Sun

    April 12, 2011 at 2:52 am |
  5. steeve-o

    Here's the real question, which is worse: Smelling your food in public, smelling someone else's food in public, or sticking your finger in your food and then saying to the person next to you, "Hey, smell my finger"?

    April 11, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  6. fob

    I think sniffing your food just may come natural for some people. My 5 year old does it. If he sees something that looks good to him, he asks if he can smell it. I actually sniff my food more now because of him. I think that maybe it will enhance the tasting experience. Just like with wine.

    April 11, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  7. Jeff

    Food is fuel. So long as the fuel isn't spoiled, it goes in.

    April 11, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • jbirdPA

      That's so sad, Jeff... Food can be an artistic, entertaining, and multi-sensory experience, right up there behind sex! – j

      April 12, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  8. Demara

    I can usually catch the aroma of warm food as it's served to me, mostly in restaurants. Mind you, I don't go stick my nose into it and be all conspicuous, but I do like to know what I'm eating smells like. I think it comes from always checking to see if the milk in our fridge has gone sour. x)

    April 11, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  9. Skip J

    I've been watching a BBC program called "Come Dine With Me, " a challenge show where 4 contestants cook for each other in their homes. One of the recent shows had a contestant who was constantly sniffing his plate while being served as a guest; the others thought this to be the height of rudeness. I agree if you're a guest. Otherwise, who cares?

    April 11, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  10. T3chsupport

    That's entirely how I cook, by smell. I don't measure anything usually, or follow recipes very often.

    I've gotten pretty good at it, since whenever I taste while I'm cooking I end up burning my tongue, and then I can't taste right to see if it tastes any good, and then I can't enjoy what I cooked! So I got in the habit of smelling everything after I add an ingredient. After awhile, you get to where you can 'taste' through your nose, and recognize all of the nuances of each herb and spice without it ever being in your mouth. Now I cook almost entirely by scent, and don't taste what I'm cooking until the moment I'm about to take it off the stove.

    This was all just so I'd stop burning my tongue, but now I can't think of a better way to cook.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  11. Abby

    I smell my food first before I eat it. I did this once in front of a co-worker and she yelled, "Ew! What are you? A dog? Only dogs sniff their food"! I was mortified to say the least, but I figured it was a cultural thing with her.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  12. Marco

    Some professor was asked why he always wore his glasses when he ate. He said that the food tasted better. It is a proven fact that if we can see what were are eating then the flavor is enhanced. Serious restaurants with minimal lighting should not use runway lights, but should provide adequate lighting.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Polo

      That actually does not make sense. Usually senses are hightened when your other senses are repressed. Like people that go blind can usually hear better. I would think if you couldn't see what you were eating, you would be able to taste better.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
      • Fish out of water

        You don't make sense.

        April 11, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
      • Snow White

        You always taste better after a shower.

        April 11, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • RichardHead

      My girlfriend says the same thing.......she gets really excited at the sight of my Buddy Holly rims.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  13. The Witty One

    I love the smell of bacon.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • RichardHead

      Especially when it's used as a garter belt by a beautiful woman!

      April 11, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
      • The Witty One@RH

        If only I could get some eau d'bacon....

        April 11, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  14. wendy

    i smell it as well as admire the plating. if it looks good as well as smells good then i'm sure to try it no matter what it is.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  15. gd

    One very nice lady that I know lost her sense of smell. She can’t enjoy her food fully; I feel for her. Next time those of you who commented that it is rude to smell your food think about how would you feel if you’d lost your sense of smell, would you really enjoy your food?

    April 11, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  16. Eric

    Do you smell her first, before you eat her?

    April 11, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  17. GrapeApe

    My eight year old does this and it cracks me up. She has done this since she was very small and I think its cute. I tell her Honey, just eat tastes fine, she looks at me and sniffs it JUST in case. It's Hilarious!

    April 11, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  18. Jdizz

    I'm a clothes sniffer. Like when you get a new outfit or new shoes.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  19. NCJ

    I have nerve damage in my jaw that makes it so I can't feel my lips. I tend to lightly breath on things to get a sense of the temp (you would be suprised how sensative your nose is to the return of warm air after it hits the food) before putting it in my mouth and burning my tongue. I always smell things, but for an entirely different reason.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • NCJ

      I should add that I do this very discretely and only on foods that are served hot. It looks more like a one or two second pause before I place the food in my mouth or gently blow on it to cool it off.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  20. MiraUncut

    lol, this thread is better than the real housewives drama...lmao

    April 11, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Truth, Temporary Bachelor@MiraUncut

      The Real Housewives are a bunch of liberal stooges. just sayin.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  21. Pinocchio

    I just wish I had longer arms.......My nose always has food on the end of it.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Snow White

      If you'd quit telling lies just to attract the ladies, then you wouldn't have this problem. Pick your poison, not your nose.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
      • Pinocchio

        I can't help it,I LIKE Furr Pie!!

        April 11, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
      • Snow White

        So you LIKE being led by the nose. What else can you sniff out?

        April 11, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
      • Grumpy

        Leave her Furr pie alone!

        April 11, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
      • Pinocchio@Snow White

        Check out my new DVD"It only Hurtz when you Lie":.

        April 11, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
      • Snow White

        "Lie where?" she asked innocently.

        April 11, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
      • Larry Flint

        I love how this has turned into a Disney porn. Hmmmm, how could I make money with this?

        April 11, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
      • Pinocchio@Snow White

        First of all,go look into the keyhole in the dwarfs room and make sure they are asleep......that's it–Uh,Huh!

        April 11, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
      • Snow White

        Sleep?!? Silly little puppet – they're going to watch!

        April 11, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  22. Henry Nettleson

    Animals sniff their food, not people.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Jerv

      Animals sniff their food because they have enough sense to find out what it is and if is spoiled or not.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Seriously

      Henry, Darling, I hate to ruin your day, but you are an animal. All of us are. More specifically, we're mammals. If smelling their food brings someone joy and it isn't hurting anyone else, then who are you to judge? At least they will die knowing how wonderful a perfectly made lasagne or quiche smells. All you will die with is a superiority complex.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • John R

      Animals often sniff everything...their nose acts a lot like their eyes. I've taken care of dogs for years, and I've stopped yelling "NO!" or yanking them back on their leash just because they put their snouts up to something...99.5% of the time, it's one sniff and they're off again. Just FYI.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
      • AleeD@John R

        Good! It's good to know you stopped that practice – regardless (which IS a standard word) of the reason.

        By treating a dog like that, you're basically trying to train your dog not to be a dog. Why have one then? it's just as infuriating as when people do despicable things to make their dog stop barking. It's a dog! It barks – and it's usually barking for a reason. Figure that out (sorry, that means you'll have to pay attention) and maybe you'll figure out why the dog is barking.

        -end of rant-

        April 11, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Pig Pen

      Animals don't just sniff other animals. I always have animals sniffing me and I only usually carry one sandwhich in my pants pocket at a time.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
      • Lucy VanPelt@Pig Pen

        Proving that you are, in fact, an animal because other animals sniff you.

        April 11, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Bend Dover

      They sniff their @ss, too.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  23. Caroline

    Smelling the stuff in the fridge is akin to the Hawkeye thing, part quality control part curiosity with just a touch of survival instinct thrown in. I love the smell of different foods, and have no problem taking a sniff. Though I may not get up close and personal, I do like to sit back and let whatever aroma waft up...especially in public.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • AleeD

      Touche' nice lady!

      April 11, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  24. jj

    Another bit of pointless fluff on Eatocracy.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Jerv@jj

      Ditto your comment.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • John R

      jj, you do realize that if we only were provided poignant "news", there would be about 3 news articles a day. Some days, even 0.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
      • Martin Lawrence

        You GO boy-eeeeeeeeeee!

        April 11, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  25. Steve

    I will sniff new foods that I have never tasted before that someone else has made (if no one is looking). I also smell ingredients or leftovers that have been in the refrigerator more than a few days.

    April 11, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Jerv the sniffing bandit

      Right on, Steve. It only takes one time of gulping down sour milk or shoving something in your piehole that has spoiled to get ya' to start smelling yer food.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
      • WD@Jerv

        I sniff dog butt,I just don't eat it!! :)

        April 11, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
      • Jerv@WD

        LOL! Good WD. Now fart on RicH!

        April 11, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
      • AleeD@WD & Jerv

        Probably smells better than Frosty's ..... never mind.

        April 11, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
      • Jerv@AleeD

        LOL! Frosty (aka IceQueen) not only has a smelly rump, but a smelly attitude.

        April 11, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
      • AleeD

        Hmmm, wasn't exactly thinking in that area .... exactly ....

        April 11, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  26. Rpigpump

    That's why you're not obvious about it in public. It's not like you're shoving your nose in your food. Often a brief whiff is enough to tell if something's good.

    April 11, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  27. Charlotte

    I don't see much point of 'investigative' sniffing before eating unless there's a possibility there may be something wrong (when I open the milk, if it's been in the fridge awhile I sniff before pouring it into my coffee). Taste is mostly smell after all, so as I am eating it, I will be smelling it and that's fine. On the other hand if I walk into a bread bakery or an Italian restaurant, I may inhale deeply just to enjoy the wonderful aroma, but I don't investigate my own plate with inquisitive sniffs before eating. If it's particularly aromatic I may enjoy that as I'm preparing to dive in, though!

    April 11, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Steven Wright

      You are absolutely wrong! On the other hand, you have different fingers.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  28. Kathleen

    I have a brother-in-law that does this and I find it off-putting. It just seems tacky.

    April 11, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Seriously

      And you, Kathleen, seem stuck-up. Everybody wins.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
      • Jerv


        April 11, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
      • Charlie


        April 11, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Patrick's Friend

      My friend Patrick sniffs his food, but he does it better than you I am sure.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Snowbunny@Kathleen

      Your the one who sounds tacky. Just sayin'.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  29. IceQueen

    Sniffing your food is poor manners. Want to do it at home? Fine. Do it in public? Low class.

    April 11, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • AleeD@Frosty

      Before you go getting all judge-y on people, I would imagine being in the food (writing) industry, like Kat is, has it's exceptions for something like this. Maybe it's an equivalent of sniffing wine – which is perfectly acceptable.

      Even if that's not the case, it's wrong to hold something like that against anyone because they may have special reasons or special needs for doing what they do.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Jerv

      Really? Guess I'm just a low class, country bumpkin, then.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Harry Ball

      Sniffing your food is low class? If it smells like shyte it's probably gonna taste like shyte. I don't eat anything I haven't smelled first.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • MaterD@IceQueen

      We have pictures of you sniffing your arm pits before entering our fine dining establishment!

      April 11, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Buggerz

      Do you sniff your buggerz?

      April 11, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • A

      You're one of those people that eat your pizza with a fork aren't you? Wait, you probably don't even eat pizza...

      April 11, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • John R

      Well, yeah, if you cautiously lift your fork, laden with some edible substance, while craning over your plate with one eye closed and your eyebrows pointed in different directions, yes. That looks and sounds rude. I think the author of the article is talking more like a happy, eyes-closed, deep whiff of anticipation smell. I don't think that's rude at all. It seems most of those who feel food-smelling is rude consider it only a test of the food's quality. As a food smeller, it's more like anticipation and slowing down enough to enjoy the meal. I have several friends who vacuum food down. I have no idea how anyone can taste it at that speed. I also have never been able to swallow quickly, even as a kid. I have to, and now enjoy, enjoy slower meals. Just my pov.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • MiraUncut

      So, why is sniffing wine and "gargling" it upper classy? Smelling your food is part of the experience. We can't taste without smell. I don't think the author meant sniffing it in an obvious way.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Snowbunny@IceQueen

      You sound like one of those people who thinks the sun sets and rises out of their @sshole.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
      • Jerv

        Hilarious! Good one SB!

        April 12, 2011 at 7:05 am |
  30. Maria

    If food smells bad, are you REALLY going to eat it? We used to have these 2nd floor neighbors who would LITERALLY stink up the entire building (it's a 3 floor walk up plus a basement) with their food. It was to the point, that I was throwing up BECAUSE of the smell of their food, my husband started getting sick as well and then followed the first floor neighbors. They ended up moving out because apparently the only people NOT getting sick from their food was them. If food doesn't smell good or look good, I'm NOT eating it.

    April 11, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Hop Sing's Recipe for Disaster

      Did Bill Gacy live below you?
      (Putting lotion on my skin to avoid the hose again)

      April 11, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • Popeye


      April 11, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  31. AleeD

    Other: nope and not likely to start. mother's school of table manners dictated (emphasis on "dictator") that it is very bad manners to sniff your food when asked to a friend's house for a meal. So I never got in the habit of doing it.

    I'm a huge fan of M*A*S*H and, agree: Hawkeye's sniffing habit was a quality control for what he would & wouldn't eat. :)

    Also alot was made of a peculiar habit on "Everyone Loves Raymond." His brother, Robert, would touch food to his chin before putting it in his mouth. That was a funny episode!

    April 11, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Beth

      I thought of Hawkeye when I saw this article's title too. One of the more famous food sniffers on tv, definately! I've been trying to find out the backstory to that. Did Alan Alda add that and it stuck? Was it a habit written in? Its so well known but I'm curious about how that came to be included in the show. Thanks!

      April 11, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • AleeD@Beth

      I'd imagine it came from his hate & distrust of all things Army. So often they talked about how bad the food was, that it led him to sniff his food to see if it was edible. 'Cuz on several episodes, he sniffed it and pushed it away.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Toshin

      I use to never smell my food until one day I made the correlation to something being wrong with the bread by taste, and smell (over looked). All the details are a bit fuzzy to me. Then I started to always smell my bread so I wouldn't have to deal with the taste. After a while I got to where I could tell when the bread was going to expire to the day from almost 2 weeks out. Then I started to smell other foods and noticed that my sense of smell was able to pick up on things that I could very easily overlook. I learned how to tell by the smell if I would like something's taste or not regardless of if it smelled bad or good. But you would be surprised how well you can smell something without having to put your face all in it, I can see how that can be considered rude. I also have a sensitive toungue and stomach, so I can quickly tell when something is wrong with the food even if I couldn't smell it. I remember when I first did that my mom and brother got sick from the food that we ate at a friends house, I knew what it was that I tasted and told them that it didn't taste cooked all the way done. Oddly, my friend and his mom, they didn't get sick, but did have upset stomachs. I was the only one that didn't get sick or an upset stomach, but only because I stopped eating what I thought was undercooked. Even though it may seem rude, watching for these things (and not being paranoid) has kept me from a world of problems, so I advise for people to do the same. There is a right approach to it and a wrong one.

      April 12, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  32. beth

    Im not a food sniffer, I look at the food. I eat with my eyes, if it looks gross I wont eat it!

    April 11, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • OSCAR

      I can bet you are really annoying to be around. Complaining about the slighest imperfections. You might as well starve.

      April 12, 2011 at 12:40 am |
      • Jerv

        LM G D AO!

        April 12, 2011 at 7:02 am |
  33. Amayda

    I am a food sniffer too! It lets my taste buds know what to expect, and it just makes it a more complete experience. Smell is almost more important than taste. Ever notice how things taste different when you have a massive head cold? If you can't/don't smell, you aren't getting the whole experience.

    April 11, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  34. Elliot in the morning

    "Smell my face!"

    April 11, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
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