One of the most frightening developments in the pandemic is the growing phenomenon of “long COVID.” Even young and healthy people who have largely recovered from coronavirus report months of exhaustion and brain fog, while the most dramatically impacted are expected to endure strokes, chronic lung problems and heart attacks as their life continues. But there is a subset of people whose long-COVID experience is defined primarily by a symptom with a significant psychological toll: They either can’t taste or smell a damn thing. As such, on TikTok, performing “taste tests” to prove their symptoms has become something of a trend.
Spoonfuls of minced garlic, coffee grounds and shots of apple cider vinegar are just some of the consumables that people are taping themselves eating to prove that their taste buds simply don’t work following their COVID-19 diagnosis.
One user, @RustardLikeMustard, has even made these taste tests essentially his entire TikTok brand. After receiving 18.3 million views on his first COVID-related video of him eating a raw onion like an apple on November 7th, he’s gained around 80,000 followers and released a line of merch. He’s also continuously upped the ante. In his second video, he shows himself brushing his teeth, drinking orange juice, biting an onion, drinking a shot of balsamic vinegar, another shot of apple cider vinegar and biting into a lemon in succession. None of this stirs any reaction from him. In later videos, he tries out chicken and gravy baby food, sardines, anchovies with capers and a clove of garlic, simply stating “nothin’” after each bite.
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The only food that seems to solicit any response from him is wasabi oreos, though this appears to be because he can still feel the sinus-clearing sensation of the wasabi despite being unable to actually taste it.
As @RustardLikeMustard explains in his initial taste-test video, his loss of taste and smell are his only COVID symptoms. It should be noted, too, that his — and most other TikTokers participating in the trend — diagnoses are too recent to know for sure how long the symptom might persist; however, some videos suggest it might last a while. For example, on November 13th, @bailyknapp posted a video biting an onion, explaining that she has spent 45 days without taste or smell. The following day, she posted another video trying out anchovies and sour skittles, again experiencing nothing. “I’ve just about given up on tasting anything,” she says in the caption.
Experts don’t yet know the full scope of the symptom as it relates to COVID, but current research suggests it will hopefully not be permanent. As a July study from Harvard Medical School found, COVID-19 likely impacts olfactory support cells, rather than the neurons responsible for smell and taste. These cells repair much faster than neurons, meaning most people should be able to recover their senses within a matter of weeks. Nevertheless, it may still be permanent in some.
Hopefully, @RustardLikeMustard and his peers will soon be able to comprehend the grossness of drinking shots of vinegar and coffee grounds once again. For now, though, they seem to be coping just as anyone else would — by capitalizing on their pandemic troubles for TikTok gain.