The claim was featured in a video shared on TikTok on Dec. 15, 2020, in which two women describe the “TikTok trick” as a “Christmas miracle.” The two roommates claimed they had COVID-19 at the time of filming and both lost their sense of smell. In the clip, the duo is seen blackening an unpeeled orange on the stovetop, peeling it, mushing it in a cup, adding brown sugar, and eating it.
At the time of writing, the video had nearly 800,000 views. But despite its popularity, there is no evidence to suggest that eating any style of orange will restore a person’s loss of smell or taste due to COVID-19. In fact, science is only just beginning to understand the mechanisms behind why people lose their sense of smell from SARS-CoV-2 in the first place, much less how to restore it.
How Does the Nose Smell?
Highly specialized sensory cells known as olfactory sensory neurons make up a small patch of tissues inside of the human nose, according to the National Institutes of Health. Each olfactory neuron has one odor receptor in the brain. As substances around the nose release microscopic molecules, the neurons stimulate receptors in the brain and send messages to identify the smell.
To reach the olfactory sensory neurons, smells take one of two paths: either through the nostrils or via a channel that connects the roof of the throat to the nose. This is why scent plays such a large role in our sense of taste — chewing food releases molecules that the olfactory sensory neurons in the back of the throat can pick up on. But when this channel is blocked by an infection, the scent of food can be lost on the brain, a condition known as anosmia.
Why Does COVID-19 Infection Create a Loss of Smell?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) listed a “new loss of taste or smell” as a symptom of COVID-19 and it is thought that COVID-19 infection creates an inflammation reaction inside the nose that leads to the loss of the olfactory neurons. And anosmia has been shown to be an indicator of viral spread at the community level, making it an important characteristic to track when tracing COVID-19 infection.