Grapheme-taste and grapheme-smell synesthesia

It includes letter-taste, letter-smell, number-taste and number-smell

If a person perceives specific and consistent tastes in their mouth (or smells in their nose) on looking at or thinking of the different letters of the alphabet or numbers, as a regular occurrence although presumably not all the time, as smell- and taste-related synesthesias tend to "come and go" somewhat in general, this would be considered grapheme-taste/grapheme-smell synesthesia. It is a very uncommon type of synesthesia.

(If whole words and not individual letters are the inducer for the taste or smell sensations, this would not be grapheme-taste/grapheme-smell but lexical-gustatory or lexical-olfactory synesthesia. The individual letters within a word do tend to influence the tastes or smells of these lexical synesthesias, but a lexical synesthete wouldn’t necessarily get tastes or smells from letters in isolation). 


I’m pleased to have found what must be the perfect example of grapheme-smell synesthesia, so I’ll start the page with it! This is the experience of a synesthete who receives smell impressions from vowels and consonants when they read.

“So basically there are only 2 smells, vowels smell like lime and consonants smell like bubblegum. I get them when I see the words and see the letters. If I looked at a long article the smell would be more dull but if I saw a big word alone the smell would very strong, sometimes the smell won’t happen if I’m looking at it for a while! When I see a word on the page (especially a long word) it smells like alternate waves of lime and bubblegum, more lime or more bubblegum depending on whether there are more vowels or consonants. Or if I’m reading, the letter is the smell that is with its “group”.”

(Source: This post and conversation on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2022.)

This synesthete speaks Greenlandic as one of their languages, and if you take a look at the unique spelling structure of Greenlandic with its frequent double vowels and double consonants, you can see why it has perhaps given rise to a case of this very unusual synesthesia type:

(Example of text taken from the novel Bussimi Naapinneq by Mâliâraq Vebæk in the Greenlandic learning blog Kalaallisut ilinniarta (go to the blog to see what it means!)


Here is a good example of this rather rare type of synesthesia with letters of the alphabet, especially if perceived alone and not within a word:

“E tastes like onions, G tastes like noodles, A tastes like cream.

Only some letters have tastes, not all. E is especially strong. I mostly only perceive the smells and tastes when letters are in isolation, but not 100 percent sure about that.”

(Source: this post and comments on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2023.)

Scrabble letter smells

This next example also caught my attention, where a person with numerous types of synesthesia ("I feel like all my senses crossfire") talked about a letter-to-smell phenomenon they had perceived:

"I was playing Scrabble earlier, and any time I had an R or a T, I got an overwhelming metallic smell, that felt yellow like fall leaves."
(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2021.)

The concurrent is clearly synesthetic in nature although I wonder if perhaps in this particular case the inducer was emotional, connected with the sudden feeling of "I've got a useful letter now". Difficult to say... but any scrabble-induced aromas floating around are always of interest to us on the Tree!

When graphemes have smell, taste and sound

I've recently found this interesting example of someone who has distinct smell and taste concurrents for specific letters, as well as some sound associations. This is the same person as the 4th example in the number-to-taste/smell section below, so they are an all-round grapheme-taste/smell synesthete: they experience taste and smell for both letters and numbers.

""R" is like flat Dr Pepper. Letters like R and Q have features I can't quite describe. Q, specifically, feels and smells faintly like a library. It is inside an old building, maybe a church or university library. It sounds like a small series of deep piano notes as well. It's a very unique letter."

(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2022.)

It can be part of grapheme-colour synesthesia

Grapheme-smell or grapheme-taste synesthesia can also occur in combination with grapheme-colour synesthesia, if a synesthete perceives colours for their letters (or colours for words, based on those of their letters) and these colours also have inherent, consistent tastes or smells. Here is an example:

"The letter R, and words that revolve around it to me look blue, and bring the taste of peanut butter."

(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2022.)

Grapheme-taste vs. phoneme-taste

The study Lexical-gustatory synaesthesia: linguistic and conceptual factors by Jamie Ward and Julia Simner (2003) speculates that some synesthetes with lexical-gustatory synesthesia – i.e. where words trigger taste perceptions – perhaps receive their taste sensations in response to just one letter. An example would be if all words containing the letter K tasted like cereals. If the taste sensation was evoked on reading the letter as part of a written word it would be a case of grapheme-taste, whereas if the taste was perceived on hearing the sound /k/, regardless of how it is written (with K, C, CK or Q), it would be a case of phoneme-taste.

Number-taste and number-smell

Smelling and tasting numbers is a very uncommon type of synesthesia, despite often being cited as an example of synesthesia in general articles in magazines and websites, which frequently begin with statements like “Do you taste numbers or smell colours?” Such questions or statements are never backed up by descriptions of real cases as they are actually extremely difficult to find.

Sean Day's study on 1,143 synesthetes to discover the prevalence of the different types indicates that there may be a small percentage of synesthetes with number-taste (0.26%), while none of them reported having number-smell. In all uncommon types of synesthesia involving tastes and/or smells, gustatory concurrents tend to be more common than olfactory concurrents, and both frequently occur together, sometimes accompanied by others such as colour or sound. It appears that this type of synesthesia tends only to affect people with a high “synesthetic disposition”, i.e. people with numerous different types, strongly expressed. In the case of number-taste or number-smell synesthesia it is possible for several concurrents to occur together, as in some of the examples below.

Here are some descriptions written by people with number-taste and/or number-smell synesthesia:

“For me, some numbers have sounds, temperatures, personalities, textures, flavors, or colors. For instance, 16 has a high pitch like a small chime, and tastes like frosting.”

(Source: this comment in the blog The Used Life.)

“I also have an addition of tastes/smells with the lower end of the numerical scale. So number 1 is yellow and tastes like buttered popcorn, 2 is like orange pastel lollies, but twelve is like fake watermelon flavouring (...). Most numbers smell more like food additives to me, like banana lollies and food colouring.”

(Source: this comment in the forum of the website AutismForums.)

“1 is a tomato taste. 2 is honey. But 12 is onions with salt. 
 One tastes like fresh cut grass, two is sun heat smell, twelve is burning cigarette. (…) Sometimes I confuse words because they taste similar, but they have different temperature and odour and different sound...”

(Source: an interesting conversation with A.J.R., a person with this type of synesthesia. 2020.)

And finally... what a great example this is!

"Not all numbers have a taste, but some do, and numbers with several digits can have a more complex flavour. They also have moods, texture and personality. I have also found that these tastes also invoke a strange sensation in my nose that I wouldn't quite attribute to smell, but almost.

For example, "1" is kind of a sweet, creamy taste akin to vanilla ice cream. Other numbers have starker tastes and if a multi digit number has a "1" in it, the flavor becomes smoother.

9 is like a sour cherry candy, 8 has a taste and almost smell I can't quite put my finger on, 7, I just tend to feel a faint sensation on my tongue, 6 is kinda earthy, 5 on its own has no taste, 4 is just generally kinda sweet, 3 is like a lemon drop, 2 is sweet but in a "low" and round way and has an indent (please don't ask what that means, it just is what it is).

I'll give some notable examples. Some numbers are aesthetically pleasing because their colours and features align well, and they have a pleasant taste. These are my favourite numbers.

42 is mild, humid/ wet, and tastes like sugar cubes. It's a tranquil number and is by far my favourite.

Numbers like 616,661 and 611 taste like chocolate with marshmallow filling. If the numbers start with 1, it doesn't have this effect because the flavour of 1 dominates it. If they start with 1, the chocolate is very faint.

515, 511, 551, 5115, 5151 and other variations that start with 5 have an orange creamsicle flavour.


This occurs similarly with letters and languages."

(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2022.)

Go to the page on lexical-gustatory synesthesia (words-taste)

Go to the page on lexical-olfactory synesthesia (words-smell)

Go to the page on grapheme-colour synesthesia

This page last updated: 31 December 2023

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