The Spectrum of Scent

Nature is the consummate creator of olfactory beauty. Consider the classic florals – rose, gardenia, jasmine, tuberose, lilac to name a few. For so many of us their visual beauty elicits unbelievably persistent and clear memories of their spring/summer odor. If we move on to the stone fruits – peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, mangoes, apples, and cherries as well as their berry counterparts – raspberries, blueberries, boysenberries, strawberries, blackberries, dewberries, elderberries, gooseberries, and others, we are reminded of their incredibly sweet and inviting tastes. We can then turn to the citrus fruits – lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit, mandarin, tangerine, bergamot, clementine, and kumquat – and again we are haunted by the desire to find one of these ripe enough to squeeze and enjoy as a refreshing juice or “water” with the exception of the inedible bergamot. In addition we have the magnificent woods and other related base notes: sandalwood, pine, balsamic fir, agar wood, amber, cedarwood, frankincense, and oak moss – and the herbaceous green notes ranging from fresh cut grass to new mown hay to tomato vine to basil to laurel bay and we have still only scratched the surface in this odor space. We could go on for hours and hours delightfully – vanilla; anise (licorice); chocolate; peppermint, spearmint; cinnamon; orange blossom; verbena; lavender. So many pleasant smells, so many pleasant memories. But…
Nature is the consummate creator as well of the very foulest of all smells . The examples are quite numerous but we usually do not spend as much time dwelling on them – briefly, consider these: fecal notes; cadaverine; putrescine; skunk smell (2-mercaptoethanol); rotten cabbage (where does sauerkraut appear in this spectrum?); stench notes via fermentation (where do the limburger cheese and the gorgonzola cheese and the blue cheese appear?). And, shockingly, it turns out that these same smells, or very closely related variants of these vile smells, are actually found in almost all of our first group of smells representing olfactory beauty albeit at extremely low levels. Further, unless trace amounts (but no more) of these vile, nature-created chemicals are present we perceive the total odor as “not natural and unacceptable.” Beauty is indeed in the “eye of the beholder” but our “nose (always) knows” better…

What do you think?  How does your nose fall on the spectrum?  Is there a smell you love that most people hate?  Or a smell you hate that most people love?  We can’t wait to hear from you.

Article written by Jerry Bertrand, Guest Contributor

Image from How Stuff Works

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