Slow Food Heroes: Michele Crippa and his fight against Covid-19 to reclaim flavors

Michele Crippa is a gastronome who has made flavors and aromas his daily work. He lost his sense of taste and smell for months with Covid, but he has not resigned himself: for himself and for all those who have found themselves in the same situation, together with the Centro Studi Assaggiatori of Brescia, Novella Bagna and Gian Paolo Braceschi of Good Senses, a company specialized in sensory analysis, he has developed an ad hoc rehabilitation path, a Sensory Box which helps to regain possession of lost flavors.

I am 32 years old and a professor of Gastronomic Sciences and Culinary History and Culture. I run a multi-channel agency that promotes educational activities, creative food experiences and events. Haute cuisine has always been one of my main passions and therefore I have made it, in a sense, my job, making tastes and smells my main activity not so much as a chef, but as a gastronome and sensory consultant.

My life, however, changed at a very specific moment: 9:40 a.m. on March 17, 2020. I poured myself a cup of coffee…and it didn’t taste like anything anymore.

The Coronavirus has taken away my main work tool, taste and smell. And more. When I recovered, I no longer had the ability to smell as before, they were completely altered.

Anosmia, or the total loss of the ability to smell, and ageusia, or the loss of taste, usually pass within a few weeks of recovery from Co-vid. This was not the case for me unfortunately. The virus caused me central neurological inflammation. From anosmia and ageusia I then moved on to cacosmia and parosmia. Cacosmia is the distorted perception of an odor. In a nutshell, the brain starts to perceive strange smells that do not exist. For months I smelled a constant odor of ashtray and cooked cabbage all day long.

I have become hypersensitive to certain aromas, such as orange peel or vanillin. I experience them strongly, to the point of nausea. The taste, in reality, with the passing of time, in a certain sense has been re-established, but being very tied to the sense of smell, it remains distorted: I can perceive on the endings of my palate the sweet, the salty, the acid, the savory and the bitter, but the experience is influenced by what, in a distorted way, my nose perceives.

One morning I found myself with another group of Italians who had the same problem as me. We were in Piacenza, for a tasting, and we all sat afflicted in the same university lab equipped with vacuum cleaners to remove extra odors from the air, a place often used by professional tasters to assess the origins and quality of olive oils, coffee blends, grappas and chocolates.

We wanted to taste, no matter what, but to smell and taste. And we couldn’t. So my search began from the discouragement of that experience. Initially, I trained for months, alone, with the help of sensory analysis experts who train winemakers and truffle hunters. But if it was a long road for me, who is in the business, who knows for those not used to working with flavors or smells. 

From a personal challenge and need, it then turned into a collective need. I felt compelled to find a solution, for everyone.

For this reason I made available my experience as a gastronome and taster and began to give advice and help people who had the same problem as me to rehabilitate their senses. 

Initially I assisted for free all the people who contacted me via email, social, meetings via zoom/meet offering them our support, indicating the medical facilities of neuroscience and otolaryngology that were starting to activate Long Covid therapeutic paths, and promoting good practices of sensory training with products and foods of everyday life easily available at home. 

Then, together with the Centro Studi Assaggiatori of Brescia, Novella Bagna and Gian Paolo Braceschi of Good Senses, a company specialized in sensory analysis, we developed an ad hoc pathway. It is a Sensory Box, containing 20 bottles with essences (generated by recovering the specific molecule) among the most popular in Italy, from apple to licorice, from truffle to lemon.  

The sense of smell is, among our sense organs, certainly the most instinctive and most connected to our emotions and experiences. It is therefore important to try to stimulate again those scents encrypted in our memory, linked to emotions and memories of the past. Reconnecting to the olfactory memory is, for its nature, a complex interpretation that requires a specific training in order to obtain good results. There are in fact olfactory training courses created and proposed by Good Senses. At the end of the training students acquire precious competences: they improve their ability to use their sense of smell and to pay attention to odors, they acquire the techniques of olfactory training, they learn the techniques of association of semantic labels to odors.

The important part of the pathway is training: it is critical to re-call the memory linked to a smell or taste, to reactivate the neural pathways interrupted by the virus.

You have to put them under your nose every day for a few seconds, following to the letter the instructions and video lessons included in the box. The tool, used within a specific training, aims to correct the sensory dispersions of patients cured by Covid. 

In recent months we have also fielded several scientific and literary publications including a cookbook. Taste and smell are very important components when it comes to nutrition as changes in perceptions greatly affect taste experiences of food and drink. Loss of sensoriality can lead to a loss of interest in food with nutritional consequences such as loss of appetite, weight loss, and risk of nutritional deficits. It is therefore important to follow a healthy and balanced lifestyle with the support and guidance of experts in the field. That’s why we thought of a book of recipes, with practical and technical advice, for those who have lost their senses: go back to cooking to continue to love themselves, because the recovery process is long and the loss of smell can create anxiety and depression. 

So the goal is always the same: to ensure that people do not resign themselves to not feeling. Taste and smell are irreplaceable: if I close my eyes and think about an object, I can even imagine it. Taste and smell, on the other hand, are not. That’s why we need to save these precious senses. To get back to feeling ourselves, not only with our nose.


Slow Food Heroes is a project financed by European Cultural Foundation

with the contribution of CRC Foundation.

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