Long before ‘gourmand’ foodie-inspired fragrances were even dreamed of and while smell was still perceived as the poor cousin of our other senses; one 18th Century polymath was championing the exquisite pleasures that taste and smell bring to everyday life. And more than mere pleasure alone: in fact, he heralded the proper appreciation and scientific study of these so-neglected senses…
‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.’ So said Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, 1755-1826, a French lawyer and politician whom, apart from law, studied chemistry and medicine, and eventually gained fame as an epicure and gastronome.
His seminal work Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste), contains Savarin’s philosophies and observations on the pleasures of the food, which he very much considered a science – long before the birth of molecular gastronomy and serious studies of taste and smell had begun.
And smell was very much at the forefront of the gastronomique experience, Savarin had worked out; exclaiming: ‘Smell and taste are in fact but a single composite sense, whose laboratory is the mouth and its chimney the nose.’
Previously considered the least important of the senses – indeed, smell remains the least scientifically explored, though technology is making huge leaps in our understanding – Savarin proclaimed that, ’The sense of smell, like a faithful counsellor, foretells its character.’
Published only two months before his death, the book has never been out of print and still proves inspirational to chefs and food-lovers to this day. Indeed, he understood that taste and smell must work together in harmony for full satisfaction of the senses, Savarin observed that ‘Smell and taste are in fact but a single composite sense, whose laboratory is the mouth and its chimney the nose.’
Preceding the remarkable leaps in knowledge high-tech equipment has allowed and revealing how entwined our sense of smell is to the taste and enjoyment of food, Savarin also observed how our noses protect us from eating potentially harmful substances, explaining ‘…for unknown foods, the nose acts always as a sentinal and cries: “Who goes there?”‘ while coming to the conclusion that a person’s character may be foretold in their taste and smell preferences… ‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.’
We once devoted an entire issue of our award-winning magazine The Scented Letter to taste and smell – as of course we are gourmand fans in ALL the senses. And so it is heartening to know that Brillat was on our side here, with this extremely useful advice we selflessly pledge to carry through life:
‘Those who have been too long at their labor, who have drunk too long at the cup of voluptuousness, who feel they have become temporarily inhumane, who are tormented by their families, who find life sad and love ephemeral… they should all eat chocolate and they will be comforted.’
Wise words, indeed. We plan to enjoy all the sweet temptations that come our way, in scent form and in chocolate. Talk about having your cake and wearing it, too!
For edeniste, ‘the link between scent and mood has long been known and talked about, but never been scientifically proven when it comes to perfume. Now for the first time, the worlds of cutting-edge olfactory neuroscience and classic fine fragrance are brought together’ – discover your own perfumed possibilities… now welcoming FULL-SIZE edeniste fragrances for you to try in our shop!
Do you need to sleep better, boost your energy levels and want to feel happier (all while being beautifully scented, of course)? Well, we’ve never seen our Co-Founder Lorna McKay more excited than when she returned from the launch of edentiste.
Literally bouncing up and down as she recounted her meeting with the visionary founder, Audrey Semeraro, in the words of the brand, they are ‘Blending the science of emotion and the art of perfumery,’ while for Audrey, it’s about ‘redefining the mission of the perfume industry with the first generation of active wellbeing fine fragrances…’
Each edeniste fragrance has been ‘charged with active molecules clinically proven to boost our mood and elevate our emotions.’ And when they say proven, they mean it. The wellbeing effects of these fragrances haven’t been left to hearsay, as with so many other aromatherapeutic type perfumes, oils and unguents available – the edensite scents have been tested by neuroscientists, literally showing which parts of our brains light up when we positively respond to the perfumes.
But it’s been a long journey to get to this place of perfumed possibilities, and it involved challenging the entire fragrance industry itself. You can read all about the birth of this fascinating fragrance house, in our page dedicated to the edeniste story; but now that we have the full-size bottles available, let’s dive in to the scents themselves…
The edeniste collection encompasses the most divine eaux de parfum and Lifeboost® essences – think of these as olfactive wellness juices to boost energy levels, happiness or even allowing you to drift off to sleep surrounded by the most gloriously soothing scent – the edentiste collection contains ‘the highest-level olfactive neuroscience, combined with the highest level in fine fragrance.’ You can choose to layer the eau de parfum with a Lifeboost® or wear them alone – let your feelings and needs guide you to the right fragrances for each day…
‘A soothing aromatic herbal musk. The warm-skin facets of Spanish labdanum essence, wrapped in an overdose of feather-soft white musks, fosters peaceful dreams. Open yourself up to a pure, soothing vision of the world that surrounds you and let go.’
‘A reviving musky woody citrus. A refreshing splash of citruses from Italy, infused with the energizing essences of peppery bergamot and regenerative grapefruit, boosted with zingy ginger absolute from Ethiopia. As bright and empowering as a tall dewy glass of freshly squeezed juice. Get up and glow.’
‘A joyful woody fruity floral. A sparkling essence built around an exotic mango accord spiked with juicy, colorful notes of raspberry and watermelon, on a base of pure Virginian cedarwood essence. Surrender to the exhilarating beat of its fizzy tropical delight. Feel the bliss.’
‘A mellow solar white floral. A solar Madagascan ylang-ylang essence matched with a creamy monoi note – the name means “sacred oil” in Tahiti –, wrapped in pure jasmine sambac absolute from India and relaxing Madagascan vanilla absolute. Relax, feel the sun shining up above, let yourself be rocked by the sound of the waves and trees swaying in the breeze… You’re in Eden.’
‘A sensual amber floral musk. Free your mind with the essence of seduction in a timeless floral elixir enriched with addictive musky notes. A hyper-sensual aldehydic blend with a glamorous vintage vibe and hint of animal magnetism that will mellow your mood and ignite your sensual power. Let yourself glow.’
‘An uplifting spicy green floral. A confidence booster with zingy Ethiopian ginger absolute and crisp pink peppercorn absolute from La Réunion. The quintessence of easygoing wellbeing, captured in a luminous accord of fresh spices and green notes enhanced by two of the most precious ingredients in perfumery: Indian jasmine absolute and iris concrete from China. Dive deep into your inner self, feel its uplifting sense of comfort. You’re golden.’
‘A caressing solar white floral. We call it cruel, but that’s just because once you wrap yourself in its radiant creaminess, you’ll find it hard to do without it. This is an exuberant bouquet of white flowers at their most sensuous. Indian jasmine absolute is the star here, but Aurélien Guichard brings out its lushness with a glamorous, luscious, coconutty tuberose, underlined with milky sandalwood. Honeyed Tunisian orange blossom absolute infuses the blend with solar energy. Pair with any Lifeboost active and bask in the light.’
‘A tender white floral. It’s the name given to the essential oil drawn from orange blossom (here, a glorious extract from Tunisia). It’s also the tender heart of the colognes so beloved by the French from early childhood… Neroli is a uniquely luminous floral essence, capturing the sun-kissed scent-scape of the Mediterranean in its pure white petals. Aurélien Guichard underlines it with zesty green petitgrain, fleshes out its cologne-like vibe with tender notes of crystalline pear and juicy white peach and wraps it in a clean musky aura. Pair with any Lifeboost active and be radiant.’
‘A delightful fruity floral. This is rose, with a smile. Vibrant, colourful, flirtatious, the Queen of Flowers is showcased here with two rich natural extracts. Bulgarian rose essence brings its glorious radiance, refreshed by a sun-kissed splash of sparkling mandarin from Italy. French May rose absolute from Grasse – the rarest and most precious – adds its opulent sensuality. Notes of red berries, naturally present in some varieties of roses, tinge the vivid bouquet with playfulness. A velvety drydown of vanilla and musk wed scent to skin… Pair with any Lifeboost active and feel the delight.’
‘A regal ambery woody rose. Rose and oud may well be the most iconic accord in Arabic perfumery: a match made in scented Eden. Aurélien Guichard retells their mystical tales with a French touch, pairing rich, carnal, almost jammy rose essence from Bulgaria with a quality of oud distilled to brings out the precious resin’s most elegant facets. Another favorite partner of rose, patchouli essence from Indonesia, spiked with cool nutmeg, bolsters the blend’s rich texture. The skin-soft leather facets of Spanish cistus labdanum absolute shed their ambery light. It’s the ultimate in self-care. Pair with any Lifeboost active and let your feelings rule.’
‘An addictive vanilla. If we called it comfort food for the nose, we’d be remiss. This luminous and addictive duo of sweet and gourmand vanillas from Madagascar is so much more sophisticated… The secret to its radiance is a superb vanilla CO2 extract – one that preserves the most delicate facets of the precious pod. A lash of rum deepens its tones, introducing a second, darker quality of vanilla absolute. Aurélien Guichard underlines Its leather-like accents with a woody accord of mystical Somalian olibanum and smoky Haitian vetiver essences. Pair with any Lifeboost active and give in to your senses.’
‘An invigorating woody spicy citrus. With natural nuances of citrus, flint, wood, smoke, and earth, vetiver is a compelling fragrance all by itself. A primal, rooting scent that is also a classic of masculine perfumery (of course, it can be enjoyed by all genders). Here, Aurélien Guichard draws out the most sparkling facets of Haitian vetiver essence with a sunny cocktail of Italian fruit: bracingly bitter grapefruit and juicy mandarin, a delicate essence chosen.’
Can you bottle the smell of happiness or use fragrance to elevate your everyday mood? It’s something fragrance fans and aromatherapists have claimed for years, but now science is directly being used to develop fragrances that go beyond simply smelling good – making you feel good, too.
In the issue you’ll find the article Fragrance’s Feel-Good Factor, in which we were incredibly excited to learn about the revolutionary house of Edeniste, whom you can read more about in our page dedicated to Edeniste, and who are, in their words, ‘Blending the science of emotion and the art of perfumery.’ For founder Audrey Semeraro, it’s about ‘redefining the mission of the perfume industry with the first generation of active wellbeing fine fragrances…’ Because edeniste are far more than a luxury fragrance house, more even than a company seeking to tap into that feeling we all get when wearing a scent that seems to resonate with our soul. Each edeniste fragrance has been ‘charged with active molecules clinically proven to boost our mood and elevate our emotions.’
Meanwhile, authorAlex Whiting delves into the fascinating word of ‘chemosignals’ – odourless transmissions we give off which are believed to trigger particular emotional responses – in a piece for the scientific magazine, Horizon; exploring ‘the ways smell impacts people’s social interactions.’
Says Enzo Pasquale Scilingo, a professor at the Department of Information Engineering at the University of Pisa, Italy: ‘It’s like an emotional contagion. If I feel fear, my body odour will be smelt by people around me and they may start to feel fear themselves, unconsciously.’ Similarly, the smell of happiness can inspire a positive state in other people, he explains. ‘If we had a spray of happiness … If we can find some odour which can induce a happy state – or a general positive state – I think we can help many, many people,’
‘We humans use our sense of smell more than we think. It’s more unconscious, and a little bit taboo – we are not very comfortable with it – but there is more and more evidence that smell is important in social behaviours.’ – Dr Lisa Roux, Interdisciplinary Institute for Neuroscience, France
As fascinating as the science undoubtedly is, you don’t need a degree to know that wearing your favourite fragrance – or experiencing a new scent that sparks joy – will undoubtedly lift your mood and give you an emotional ‘boost’ of comfort, confidence or strength. During lockdown sales of fragrances (unexpectedly, to some) soared, and no wonder. Now we have the science to back what we’ve always felt: fragrance can simply make you feel better.
We’re always excited to attend the annual IFRA Fragrance Forum – a symposium of scent at The Royal Institution which delves deeper into current scientific research, bringing together experts from around the world who may never usually meet, but who all share the sense of smell as a common theme of their research.
This year, we’re even more thrilled, as it will be held in-person again (although online streaming options are available), the topic being Hidden Depths: Memory, language and the sense of place.
IFRA says: “This year we celebrate our 10th Fragrance Forum which will be chaired by Professor Barry Smith, Director of the Institute of Philosophy at the Centre for the Study of the Senses. With Barry at the helm we will be exploring the many hidden depths of olfaction through a fantastic line up of speakers including:
Professor Noam Sobel from the Weizmann Institute in Israel – a leader in research relating to olfaction, he will be talking about some of his latest work.
Mr Peter Andrews, Consultant Rhinologist, Facial Plastic and Anterior Skull Base Surgeon, Royal National Throat Nose and Ear Hospital and National Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery. As the lead for smell in relation to long-Covid, Peter will be talking about post-infection olfactory disfunction, its wider impact and new ways we can tackle it.
Omer Polak, Studio Omer Polak, Berlin. Omer will talk about the multidisciplinary approach of his studio using a variety of projects that examine the use of the sense of smell as a tool for design through images, video, sound, and smell.
Professor Asifa Majid, Professor of Language, Communication, and Cultural Cognition Department of Psychology, University of York will be focusing on olfaction and language.
Dr Tom Mercer, Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Professor Sebastian Groes, Professor of English Literature, University of Wolverhampton will be talking about two studies they have done that provide new insights into the connection between smell, memory and place, and they highlight the value of exploring region-specific smells within the context of the Proust Phenomenon.
We look forward to seeing you at The Royal Institution as we explore the hidden depths of smell together.”
A new study suggests our preference for perfumes may have already been decided in childhood, thanks to a process known as ‘imprinting’. Does this mean the scents we’re drawn to as adults have a direct link to those childhood associations…?
Imprinting refers to the known phenomenon of certain animals and birds getting ‘fixated on sights and smells they see immediately after being born. In ducklings, this can be the first moving object, usually the mother duck. In migrating fish like salmon and trout, it is the smells they knew as neonates that guides them back to their home river as adults.’ But how does this work, and what might it say about the scents humans tend to prefer?
According to the report on the science news website eurekalert.org: ‘Exposure to environmental input during a critical period early in life is important for forming sensory maps and neural circuits in the brain. In mammals, early exposure to environmental inputs, as in the case of imprinting, is known to affect perception and social behavior later in life. Visual imprinting has been widely studied, but the neurological workings of smell-based or “olfactory” imprinting remain a mystery.’
Setting out to discover more, scientists from Japan studied ‘the mechanism of olfactory imprinting during the critical period in mice.’ In doing so they found three molecules significant to this olfactory ‘imprinting’ stage in infants, which Dr. Nishizumi revealed are: ‘Semaphorin 7A (Sema7A), a signaling molecule produced in olfactory sensory neurons, Plexin C1 (PlxnC1), a receptor for Sema7A expressed in the dendrites of mitral/tufted cells, and oxytocin, a brain peptide known as the love hormone.’
The report goes on to explain the way the molecules were discovered to be enabling the ‘imprinting’ or early love of certain smells. ‘During the critical period, when a newborn mouse pup is exposed to an odor, the signaling molecule Sema7A initiates the imprinting response to the odor by interacting with the receptor PlxnC1. As this receptor is only localised in the dendrites in the first week after birth, it sets the narrow time limitation of the critical period. The hormone oxytocin released in the nursed infants imposes the positive quality of the odour memory.’
Fascinatingly, previous studies have shown male mice also seem to prefer (or show a curiousity for) ‘unknown’ smells, and this study also concluded that mice can change their minds about what they like – taking a previously negative smell association and changing it to something positive, which they enjoy smelling. ‘This study adds valuable new insights to our understanding of decision making and mind struggle in humans and reveals new research paths in the neuroscience of all types of imprinting’ the report concludes, but what might this say about how we, as humans, choose fragrances in later life?
As with all areas connected to our sense of smell, huge amounts of research remain to be done, but it shows how complex the brain is when processing smell memories, and possibly predicting how we will react to those scents we encountered as children.
It makes sense (she said, resisting the urge to make that overly-used pun) – if you adored the smell of your grandmother’s lavender, you’ll likely be drawn to smelling it again throughout your life. But if you had negative associations with that smell from an early age, you’re more likely to avoid it. However, just as the mice can change their mind, so do we – our olfactory palate expands the more we smell, and the more we focus on the emotions we experience through those scents. If you create new, happy memories with an aroma you used to hate, you can shape your own reaction to it.
Our own conclusion? Explore the smells connected with your own childhood memories, but continue to enjoy exploring new scents and creating positive associations to tap in to whenever you need some reassurance…
Why do essential oils exist? Did you know that the gorgeous smelling essences we so prize in perfumes are actually a way plants communicate with each other (and defend themselves from insect attacks?) This fascinating report reveals all…
‘Plants have nowhere to run from their enemies – flying, crawling and jumping insects want to eat them alive. But plants are not defenceless. They deploy chemical toxins to deter insects. These can make the plant taste bitter, inhibit the herbivore’s digestive enzymes, disrupt their metabolism or poison them.
But they have a more subtle defence too – perfumed chemical compounds, known as volatiles, that they emit into the air to warn neighbours of danger or convey when they’re hurt. An example is the smell of cut grass, a mix of molecules called ‘green leaf volatiles’ which are released when a plant is damaged.
‘Plants are nature’s chemists. They take a few simple inorganic molecules and produce thousands of different organic molecules by just adding (energy from) sunlight,’ said Professor Matthias Erb, a plant scientist at the University of Bern, Switzerland. He investigates the volatiles that plants emit when attacked by insects for a project called PERVOL.
‘Some of these volatiles attract natural enemies of the herbivore, so, friends of the plant,’ said Prof. Erb. For example, if a caterpillar attacks a plant, these volatiles may attract parasitoid wasps or trigger defence responses in neighbouring plants. He says plants don’t help one another by signaling ‘I’m under attack’. Rather, they snoop on one another’s chemical signals to warn themselves about imminent threats.
Decoding these signals could teach us how to better protect crops against insects, according to Prof. Erb.
‘These (plant-derived) molecules can be useful for agriculture in that they are natural protective mechanisms of plants. We could use them instead of synthetic chemicals,’ he said.
Prof. Erb works with maize, a strong emitter of volatiles. One chemical it emits is indole, which has a pleasant flowery aroma in small concentrations. Indole is not released by cutting maize. It requires the presence of a molecule in moth caterpillar saliva that activates defence responses in the plant. ‘(Healthy) maize plants do not emit indole. It is only triggered by herbivory,’ he said.
Prof. Erb and his colleagues found that when indole wafts towards the part of the plant that is not under attack, it triggers what he calls a primed state. ‘(Indole) doesn’t induce a defence response, but it prepares the plant, so that when the plant is attacked by a herbivore, it will respond quicker and stronger,’ he said.
Doing this means it can fend off its attacker more effectively, he says.
One limitation of indole, however, is that it is also released by some flowers, such as jasmine and orange blossom. To prevent confusion, as a single volatile might be misleading, maize plants often tune into chemical mixtures to deduce attacks.
‘We have shown that indole and green leaf volatiles act synergistically to induce defences in an even stronger fashion than an individual volatile,’ said Prof. Erb.
‘Plants are nature’s chemists. They take a few simple inorganic molecules and produce thousands of different organic molecules by just adding sunlight.’
Professor Matthias Erb, University of Bern, Switzerland
To paint a fuller picture of plant behaviour, scientists are also exploring the impact of insect saliva on green leaf volatiles.
This is something that Dr Silke Allmann at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands has investigated in her work looking at how the green leaf volatiles of hurt plants is perceived by both plants and insects.
She experimented on tobacco plants by mechanically cutting them and applying water or the saliva of a tobacco hornworm caterpillar. The results surprised her: overall, the amount of green leaf volatiles did not change much, but the composition of the volatiles shifted dramatically. An enzyme in the caterpillar’s spit changed the compound, causing it to shift from a grassy to a sweet smell.
She then discovered that a shift to the sweet-smelling compound attracted big-eyed bugs, which are natural enemies of the hornworm caterpillar, to the tobacco plant. This seemed puzzling to Dr Allmann, as the caterpillar’s own enzyme helped alert its presence to its enemies.
However, the sweet smell also warned adult tobacco hawk moths that a tobacco plant had already been colonised by caterpillars and steered them towards those with fewer competitors and fewer predators.
Dr Allmann is now studying this compound further as part of a project called VOLARE, and exploring practical uses.
‘A big challenge with plant volatiles is finding applications in agriculture. That is the holy grail,’ said Dr Allmann.
These chemicals can help farmers in a greener way, say the scientists.
‘You could imagine applying plant volatiles at the right moment to trigger specific reactions in a plant, for instance, resistance to herbivory,’ said Prof. ‘That would be a far more environmentally friendly strategy of boosting plant immunity or resistance to stress than applying a bioactive chemical to kill insects.’
Such natural chemicals could be released into fields under threat from pests to activate plant defences at the right moment. Insights into how plants detect warning smells could also allow breeders to develop crop varieties that are responsive to the signals.
What remains puzzling for scientists is how plants sniff out volatiles in the first place. They don’t have noses like us but can smell.
‘Our hypothesis is that volatiles enter through the stomata, small pores in leaves. We expect that there are sensors inside the leaf, perhaps proteins on the surface of cells, that the volatiles bind to,’ said Prof. Erb.
Dr Allmann is also hunting for these sensors. ‘If we found these receptors, we could find ligands (a type of molecule) that bind to them and switch them on. We could perhaps breed plants to be more or less sensitive to volatiles,’ she said. Plants could be bred that are easily triggered and could serve as sentinels to warn other plants nearby.’
We all know how transporting smell memories can be – the whiff of someone’s perfume as they pass by immediately propelling you to another time, place or person you associate it with. It has long been known our sense of smell is the strongest link to unlocking these memories, but new research has only just revealed why…
An international team of scientists, led by Christina Zelano from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, used neuroimaging and intercranial electrophysiology to discover why certain areas of the brain, such as the hippocampus, are more strongly linked with smell than any other sense. According to a report on the science news website New Atlas:
‘This new research is the first to rigorously compare functional pathways connecting different human sensory systems with the hippocampus. The striking findings reveal our olfactory pathways connect more strongly with the hippocampus than any other sense.’
‘During evolution,’ Zelano explains, ‘humans experienced a profound expansion of the neocortex that re-organised access to memory networks.’ Basically put, all other senses got re-routed as sections of our brains expanded, but smell remained intrinsically (and directly) connected to the hippocampus. Or as Zelano more scientifically puts it: ‘Vision, hearing and touch all re-routed in the brain as the neocortex expanded, connecting with the hippocampus through an intermediary-association cortex-rather than directly. Our data suggests olfaction did not undergo this re-routing, and instead retained direct access to the hippocampus.’
While this is, of course, fascinating; perhaps the more practical outcome of this, and other continuing research, is a reaffirmation of how important our sense of smell is to our wellbeing, and impacts on our every day lives even more than was previously assumed. Indeed, the discoveries of links between our sense of smell and depression (and how scent might be used in the future to treat it), has been significantly highlighted because of Covid-19 cases often suffering with anosmia (a lack of smell) and parosmia (a distorted sense of smell).
You can read more about anosmia and parosmia on our website by searching for those terms, and also in Louise Woollam’s piece about how devastating it was to lose her sense of smell as a fragrance blogger. It’s a subject Louise wrote about so movingly, again, more recently for our magazine, The Scented Letter: Perfume’s Bright Future edition. VIP Subscribers receive this magazine FREE, but you can also buy print copies, here, or purchase an International Online Subscription at only £20 for a full year of fragrant reading.
Caitlin Lawson, a marine biologist at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, thinks we have a lot to learn about climate change from the smells that coral produce…
Having witnessed the annual spawning of coral larvae, which takes place every November on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and describing the spectacle as being ‘like an underwater snowstorm,’ – Lawson set about her task of collecting samples of the gaseous (and rather pongy) scent chemicals they release during this orgy of olfaction. Hakai Magazine reported on her research, explaining that ‘Using advanced analytical chemistry techniques, Lawson and her colleagues are working to identify the spectrum of volatile chemicals the corals produce under different conditions. They hope that measuring these gaseous compounds can give them a way to assess the corals’ health.’
Because when you think about it: why do things smell? Why are we so receptive to these scents, and what might we learn by unravelling this secret, sniffable language?
‘All living things release volatile chemicals,’ explains the report, ‘and many species have adopted specific volatiles as communicative signals. Scientists have long studied their function in terrestrial organisms. A plant’s volatile emissions might indicate to nearby flora that an insect predator has alit, for example, or they might be used to attract another species that feeds on that predator. Detecting these chemicals also has medical uses—think of dogs sniffing out cancer or perhaps even COVID-19.’
But it’s far harder to capture and analyse smells transmitted under water (think baked beans on toast for tea followed by a nice warm bath…) and so Lawson says she and her team ‘are playing catch-up to the terrestrial world,’ when it comes to unravelling the signals living creatures such as the so-endangered coral reefs are trying to tell us.
‘In a recent study’, the report continues, ‘the scientists described how they detected 87 volatile chemicals being dispersed by two species of coral, Acropora intermedia and Pocillopora damicornis.’ A great number of these volatile smells have already been flagged as important to climate regulation, and Lawson believes ‘this is a potentially huge source that, so far, we have overlooked’ when it comes to mapping (and predicting) what’s happening to our climate.
We already knowthat odours impact people’s social interactions, and sense of inclusion or exclusion from others; and plants signal attack or distress to one another through smell – that’s basically what essential oils are: invisible scent messages whizzing through the air to warn others of their species or deter insects. So, might coral (and other living creatures) send scented signals not only to ring the alarm bell (or perhaps even help warn surrounding creatures of impending danger), but bang the gong for getting it on? Says Lawson: ‘This is still very much in the baby stage of research. There’s so much to explore…’
Oh sweet heavens, how we need something to help uplift our spirits and keep us keeping on. If you’ve just about reached the end of your rope, we’ve some fragrant ways to tie a knot in it and help you hang on…
For so long, we’ve marked the days not in encounters and newness, but with calendars full of red slashes: the things we didn’t do, the people we’ve not seen (perhaps for all of that time), the trips we’ve cancelled and how few hugs we’ve had from loved ones, if any hugs were had at at all.
It’s not just whimsy and conjecture that fragrance can help in troubled times – your sense of smell is directly linked to emotions and memory, so wafts of a favourite scent throughout the day can be a perfumed pick-up for you, or worn as a fragrant shield against the world in general. And there’s research to back up those beliefs.
A team of scientists, led by Christina Zelano from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, used neuroimaging and intercranial electrophysiology to prove the hippocampus (the part of the brain that stores memories and emotional reactions) is more directly linked with smell than any other sense. According to the study, published in Science Direct:
“This new research is the first to rigorously compare functional pathways connecting different human sensory systems with the hippocampus. The striking findings reveal our olfactory pathways connect more strongly with the hippocampus than any other sense.”
Smell is the only sense that’s directly plugged in to this area of the brain that controls our emotional responses. ‘In mammals, the sense of smell is uniquely linked to the part of the brain associated with emotions and the creation of memories,’ explains Dr Roux. All other senses – taste, hearing, sight, and touch – are processed by other regions of the brain before being linked to the limbic system. Our ability to smell ‘…is a window into parts of the brain related to core functions, like pleasure, emotion, and memory,’ agrees Jayant Pinto, MD, author of the study and an otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon at University of Chicago Medicine.
Although a study published by Frontiers in Psychology found that tests with citrus and feelings of positivity ‘yielded inconsistent results’, they also discovered that ‘Indeed, depressive individuals seem to display a specific preference for citrus fragrances…’ Indeed, citrus scents, such as lemon, orange, and grapefruit, have been proven to help you feel more alert – and better about your body. A fascinating study at the University of Sussex showed the smell of a lemon makes us feel physically lighter, and as sciencedaily.com reported, ‘could help people feel better about their body image.’
Whatever your preference, we have no doubt there are perfumes out there to help you feel brighter, more alert and ready to face the day…
Shay & Blue Mermaid Kisses
The perfect pocket-sized pick me up, this is all swaying palm trees and wiggling your toes in warm sand as you drink that first holiday cocktail. If citrus doesn’t do it for you, try crispness and zing via apple and salty samphire sea lily atop luscious honeydew melon. £12.50 for 10ml eau de toilette shayandblue.com
Liz Earle Botanical Essence No.1
Sparkling fresh, a sudden snapshot of summer memories of laughing while dancing in a garden, the fizz of Champagne bubbles still on your lips, a warm breeze swirling rose petals at your feet. Spray whenever you need reminding that these better days will come again. £54 for 50ml eau de parfum uk.lizearle.com
Molton Brown Orange & Bergamot
Whisking you to the light-filled royal courtyards of Seville, bitter orange, sun-drenched bergamot and mandarin giggle into neroli and the cardamom-flecked, florist-shop freshness of galbanum; while ylang ylang is (unusually) found in the base, making for a giddily joyous landing. £120 for 50ml eau de parfum moltonbrown.co.uk
Clarins Eau Dynamisante
Containing essential oils of lemon, patchouli, petit grain, ginseng and white tea, it leaves you feeling like you’ve just bounced out of a spa treatment. Book the appointment and splash this on at will as you countdown… £52 for 200ml eau de Cologne clarins.co.uk
La Montaña First Light Reed Diffuser
It isn’t only fragrances we wear that can lift our mood. We adore the freshly squeezed sparkle of citrus in this – delivered via candle or reed diffuser – along with a fresh, herbaceous breeze that altogether evokes the tendrils of sunshine, that kiss of dawn that wake you from a dream. £35 for 120ml reed diffuser lamontana.co.uk
There are some books that really transcend the boundaries – appealing not only to those already immersed in the subject, but to the wider public – and Nose Dive by Harold McGee is most definitely one of the best we’ve read. So wonderfully connecting the dots between the worlds of smell and taste, it’s no wonder the Sunday Times named it their 2020 Food Book of the Year, calling it ‘A joyously nerdy study of how and what we smell, the effect on our appetites and much more.’
Having worked with some of world’s most innovative chefs, including Thomas Keller and Heston Blumenthal; McGee has dedicated over a decade of his life to our most overlooked sense, and here gives us not only the facts about the chemistry of food, cooking and smells; but widens this (and encourages us to widen our nostrils) by explaining the science of everyday life and the various whiffs we may encounter along the way.
Think of this as a manual to re-connect you to your nose, heightening your enjoyment and understanding of food but, much more than that – enriching every single part of your life. Along the way, McGee introduces us to the aroma chemicals that surround us, which make up our entire world and colour the way we experience it. It’s a joyous book that should be read by cooks, perfumers, fragrance-addicts and absolutely anyone who has been struck by a smell, wondered what it was and wanted to know more.
Something we especially loved was how clearly this information is laid out – so it can be easily referred to. Each smell mentioned is laid out in a chart of its name/species, the component smells to identify it with, and the molecules that create those smells. Gleefully, some have a column respresenting ‘Also found in’, so we learn, for example, that Some Smells of Cat Urine are like blackcurrant, which is caused by methylbutyl sulfanyl formate, and can also be found in beer and coffee. More fragrantly, many flower varieties are described, along with plant pongs, animals, humans, food (raw, cooked or cured) and the scent of space itself.
Managing to be both scholarly yet immediately accessible, it’s his passion for that subject that really sporings off the page and makes you want to run out into the street and start smelling things with a new appreciation for what you might find. Whether he has you bending to smell wet pavements and marvelling at ambergris, exploring the fruit-filled Himilayan mountain ranges, literally stopping to smell the roses or cautiously approaching a durian fruit… this is a celebration of something the majority of us take so foregranted – until we have it taken away from us. Witness the huge rise in smell-related news stories, during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Perhaps now the media are focussing on our sense of smell at last, and realising how important it is to our enjoyment and understanding of every day life, there will be further books like this to enjoy a wider readership than they may have previously. And maybe that will lead to proper funding for the much-needed further research we still so desperately need. Now that’s something to celebrate!
If your intrest in pongs has been piqued, perhaps you’d like to perfuse the many other books about smell and the senses we have reviewed for our Fragrant Reads bookshelf…?