By Candice Fernandez
“I taste words” – a student has been diagnosed with a bizarre condition that causes her to taste different food every time she hears WORDS.
Kathryn Jackson, 22, from Nottingham, can taste a carrots every time she hears the name Rory, and stuffing every time someone says ‘impossible.’
She was diagnosed with lexical-gustatory synaesthesia – whereby spoken or written language causes a person to experience a robust smell and taste of items they associate the word with.
Kathryn hasn’t been able to have a conversation without being distracted by her ever-changing taste buds throughout her life.
With certain names causing her to taste marshmallows, apples, custard and carrots.
The creative advertising student not only tastes the flavour of assorted food – but can also feel its textures, smell its scent and she also sees abstract colours.
Listening to lecture at her University, having conversations with her friends and reading her favourite novel all trigger an eclectic range of food tastes in Kathryn’s mouth.
Kathryn said: “I can taste words when I hear or see them.
“I’ve had lexical-gustatory synaesthesia my entire life.
“Sometimes a word sounds like a food item, which can trigger me to taste it.
“So for example when I hear the name ‘Lola’ – I can taste lollypops.
“The name Ella makes me taste jelly beans because ‘ella’ and ‘jella’ rhyming.
“My friend Rory’s name makes me taste carrots, because it sound like ‘raw’ at the start which makes me think of carrots.
“When I hear the name ‘Gus’, I taste custard – I guess because of ‘gus’ and ‘cus’.
“It’s not only rhymes or sounds that trigger tastes in my mouth, it can also be prompted by childhood memories.
“My nans’ hairdresser’s name is Yvonne, so whenever I hear that name, I always taste cigarettes and smell hairspray.
“Whenever I hear the name John, I can taste potatoes.
“I think that’s because my grandad’s name is John and when I was young he used to always make me Sunday dinner.”
Synaesthesia is actually a common condition in which many people associate certain numbers and letters with colours.
But Lexical-gustatory synaesthesia is a rare form of it.
Kathryn’s sees colours when she hears numbers, but she says all of her senses are triggered and cross over, rather than just one.
She added: “Some people say my condition is weird, but when I actually talk to them about general synaesthesia, I find a lot of people realise they have it on some level.
“Many friends have said to me they think of certain colours when they see a number.
“Mine’s a bit more extreme as I can actually taste lingering flavours of food and things in my mouth.
“The words that can trigger taste are either people in my life, or have an attached memories from my childhood.
“The word impossible makes me taste stuffing, I think maybe because the end of ‘impossible’ rhymes with stuffing ‘ball’.
“There are literally hundreds!
“When I am in a lecture, it’s really hard to concentrate because they will say a certain word and then a flavour of food will enter my mouth.
“It’ll be so strong that I then can’t stop thinking about the word and consequently taste it for ages.
“It can make me quite hungry and can be annoying.
“When I am reading, I can taste words even if I haven’t heard it out loud.”
Kathryn, who studies at the University of Lincoln, set up an Instagram called, ‘I_taste_words’ to portray what different words make her taste in colourful illustrations.
She recently decided to share her story in a bid to raise awareness for the condition.
Kathryn said: “Once, I was reading the newspaper and I saw about a story about a fish and chip shop, I suddenly smelt fish and chips.
“The smells can be so strong that I look around me to see if they are actually there or not.
“I even feel food psychically in my mouth, like when I hear the word I can feel the texture of it.
“This is something I have had since I was a little girl, but at the time I didn’t know I was different, I thought everyone else had it too.
“When I hear what my family members have named their babies, I always abruptly question why people would name their child certain names.
“This is because I can get some awful tastes in my mouth, but then I realise no one knows what I am talking about.
“Although it’s very distracting, it’s not all that bad when I get to taste lolly pops and cupcakes!”
James Wannerton, the president of UK Synaesthesia Association said: “Synaesthesia is caused by cross activation between two normally separate areas of the brain.
“An individual with synaesthesia has extra neural connections linking these separate areas.
“The stimulation of one sense causes an involuntary reaction in one or more of the other senses.
“Someone with synaesthesia may for example, hear colour or see sound.
“Lexical Gustatory synaesthesia is quite a rare form of the condition.
“Synaesthetes with this type possess an extra neural link between the part of the brain that deals with sound and the part that deals with taste.
“So whenever they hear or see a word, the word sound has a specific and unique taste and texture automatically attached – they can actually taste the words.”