From the deep musk of single-malt whisky to the tart juiciness of white wine, the world of alcohol comes bearing a wide variety of flavors. Many liquors and spirits are crafted carefully, some taking years to develop. But if you’re a frequent smoker, you may be putting yourself at a disadvantage as your taste functions may not be as sharp as they used to be.
A study of nearly 4,000 adults found that current smokers perceived salty and bitter tastes as less intense compared to their non-smoker or former smoker counterparts, who enjoyed elevated whole-mouth taste.
What’s the science behind this? Smoking narrows blood vessels and restricts blood flow, which affects the amount of blood your taste buds receive – and can dull or eventually kill them. So before heading to that wine tasting or opening that beloved bottle of cognac, you’ll want to find ways to prepare your tongue so you can fully appreciate every sip.
Begin with a clean slate
Given the layered taste profiles in some alcoholic drinks, as discussed in our article, it’s essential to start with a clean palate so you have better odds at identifying different flavors. Professional wine tasters often avoid coffee or other strongly flavored drinks for several hours before a tasting.
This also extends to meals: you may want to avoid overly spicy dishes, which could dull your taste buds even more, and aromatics like garlic and onions, which could distort flavors.
Others may avoid mint-based candy, chewing gum, or toothpaste. Now, menthol is an incredibly popular cigarette variant – two out of five cigarette users smoke menthol.
But if you want to enjoy a premium drink to the fullest, it’s best to abstain from anything menthol- or mint-based until after your drinking session, just like how you wouldn’t eat anything after you’ve just brushed your teeth. But if you’re worried about your breath, you can brush with unflavored toothpaste.
Try nicotine alternatives
Quitting cigarettes cold turkey can be tough, but alternatives can help. If you’re not drinking anything fancy and therefore don’t need to abstain from strong flavors, as suggested earlier, you could opt for a nicotine product that carries less potency.
A popular option is the nicotine pouch, which caters to a wide range of tastes. The tobacco-free nicotine pouches on this website demonstrate how they come in different types, flavors, and strengths. Studies have shown how some flavors, such as spearmint, can enhance the flavor of berry-based drinks, like a strawberry daiquiri or even a dry red wine.
So, if you enjoy the taste of menthol but find peppermint or cool mint products too strong, the ZYN Spearmint 6 Mint will not only manage your cravings but also enhance the flavor of some drinks. Plus, with nicotine pouches, you don’t have to worry about bad tobacco breath or foul aftertastes, which could interfere with your taste perception.
If you prefer the berry flavor to be in your pouch instead of your drink, this brand offers Zone X Berry Fresh, which combines the flavors of summer berries to create a balance between sweet and sharp. You could pair these with Pinot Noir rosé or champagne.
Be mindful of flavors
When it comes to tasting alcohol better, smokers aren’t purely at the mercy of their biological processes. The thing is, smell, taste, and memory are intimately linked. First, the nose and mouth are connected by airways.
That means the olfactory epithelium senses everything you eat or drink, which is responsible for sending smell signals to the brain. And thanks to the latest research on flavors, we now know that the areas of the brain that process odors are the exact same areas that process emotions: the amygdala and the hippocampus.
So the next time you’re enjoying a drink – whether it’s a casual beer or an expensive wine – try not to chug or gulp. Take the time to savor the taste and smell, which will unlock memories that help crystallize the idea of a flavor in your mind. That way, you can look back on a great night and remember not only the company but also the taste of the delicious drink you had in your hand.
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I am a passionate beer connoisseur with a deep appreciation for the art and science of brewing. With years of experience tasting and evaluating various beers, I love to share my opinions and insights with others and I am always eager to engage in lively discussions about my favorite beverage.