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Grapheme-taste and grapheme-smell synesthesia

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


These types of synesthesia are very uncommon.


Letter-taste and letter-smell

This can 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 the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2022.)


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. 

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 the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2022.)


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 the online debate platform 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!


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, 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 classic letter-taste or letter-smell synesthesia.  


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 the online debate platform 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: 27 April 2022

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