Fact Check: Eating Burnt Orange, Brown Sugar Does NOT Repair Sense Of Taste, Smell

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: Eating Burnt Orange, Brown Sugar Does NOT Repair Sense Of Taste, Smell Experts Say No

Does eating the inside of a burnt orange mixed with brown sugar repair a person's sense of taste and smell? No, that's not true: An ear, nose and throat surgeon told Lead Stories that "no treatment ... has been shown to repair the sense of taste and smell." Restoring those two senses typically requires addressing underlying health issues, consulting with health care professionals and sometimes allowing time for the senses to recover naturally if they are impaired due to illness or injury.

The claim appeared in a post and video (archived here) on Facebook by Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler, an ophthalmologist and social media influencer, on April 4, 2024, under the on-screen title "Doctor reacts to 'Hack to Regain Smell with Burnt Orange.'" The post's caption said:

#duet with @taylor_jordan22 can a burnt orange help regain smell #smell #nose

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:


(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri Apr 26 13:23:14 2024 UTC)

The recipe for burnt orange and brown sugar, as shown in the social media post, involves burning the skin of a whole orange on a stove, peeling it and mixing it with brown sugar before eating it.

The video

The 28-second video shows Boxer Wachler on a split screen reacting to the claim made by the narrator. Here's what the narrator said:

My brother got COVID, and never fully got his taste and smell back. So, I tried the famous burnt orange and brown sugar hack to see if it would work. He was skeptical at first, but once he finished it, he started to get his taste and smell back.

So, it does work, y'all!

At 24 seconds into the clip, a smiling Boxer Wachler nods approvingly at the end of the pitch as the expression "not🧒" appears above his head.

According to the Urban Dictionary, "not cap" is slang for not lying or deceiving. The blue-cap emoji used in Boxer Wachler's reaction is also found in the Urban Dictionary. It refers to when someone is "cappin,'" which means someone is lying or "over-exaggerating their actions." Both expressions are an endorsement of the claim in the video.

A few seconds later, Boxer Wachler points up, as another graphic, which says, "Also works with mint, garlic and coffee," appears. Here's how it looked in the video:


(Source: Facebook screenshots taken on Fri Apr 26 2024 UTC)

Other than his nod and smile of approval, Boxer Wachler provided no evidence to support his endorsement.

The experts

In an April 26, 2024, email to Lead Stories, Pamela Dalton, an experimental psychologist who researches perceptions of taste and smell, called the burnt orange and brown sugar claim "simply internet garbage." Dalton, a faculty member at Philadelphia's Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit research institute devoted to studying taste, smell and chemical irritation, continued:

There is no evidence or credible scientific claim that this exposure restores smell or taste function. Moreover, there is no plausible biological mechanism by which this would restore viral, trauma or chemical-induced smell or taste loss. We would be delighted if such a simple remedy worked, but it does not. People never consider that their smell loss can return spontaneously without any treatment, although the majority of COVID-related smell loss did exactly that.

Dr. Andrew Lane, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon and director of the Johns Hopkins Sinus Center, echoed Dalton in an April 26, 2024, email to Lead Stories, calling the claim in the social media post "false." He added:

There is no treatment that has been shown to repair the sense of taste and smell. That being said, repeated sniffing of essential oils over a period of months (called 'olfactory training') is believed to stimulate remaining function and help 'rehab' the sense of smell, thereby accelerating natural recovery.

Lane also said:

To the extent that people claim this works, they probably were already recovering their sense of smell/taste and just didn't realize it yet. The burnt orange and brown sugar are very strong stimuli that might be detected even if senses were significantly impaired.

In conclusion, Dalton questioned Boxer Wachler's expertise to be able to assess the benefits of the burnt orange-brown sugar mixture. She said:

Dr. Boxer Wachler is not an ENT nor does he appear to have any scientific expertise in chemosensory function that would allow him to comment on or confirm the accuracy of this claim.

Read more

Other media outlets have also reviewed this claim, including USA Today, NBC's "Today" show and Prevention.

Additional Lead Stories fact checks of claims about COVID-19 can be found here.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

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