International Women’s Day – celebrating female founders of fragrance houses

Celebrating International Women’s Day, in previous years we’ve flagged up female perfumers who’ve shaped the scent world. For 2022 we wanted to give a particular high-five to some amazing women who’ve founded and continued to successfully run some of our favourite fragrance houses, during what has been one of the most challenging periods for retail – and the world! – in history.

So, let’s raise our glasses and support just some of these incredible and entrepreneurial women who strode their own paths in the world of perfume

 

Imogen Russon-Taylor – Kingdom Scotland
From a distinguished career in the aromatic world of Scotch whisky, Imogen founded Scotland’s first fragrance house. Using perfume to share old narratives in new ways, tapping into the rich stories associated with perfume and natural ingredients, she’s also inspired by the Arctic explorer and Scottish botanist Isobel Wylie Hutchison – a woman ahead of her time, whose own tale inspired one of the initial trio of fragrances, Albaura.

 

 

Kate Evans – Angela Flanders
‘I’ve inherited this incredible legacy and I want it to live on,’ Kate Evans explains, having been bequeathed the award-winning London perfumery her mother, Anglea Flanders founded. Angela was a fragrant phenomenon: an utterly incredible woman with a life-long passion for perfume, who was still working – and creating beautiful scents – into her eighth decade. A costume designer turned interior designer turned perfumer, she passed her knowledge of ingredients and exquisite sense of style to Kate, who proudly continues at their Columbia Road boutique.

 

 

Amanda Connock – Connock London
Born of a love and respect for ‘nature, native folklore and family’, Amanda’s parents supplied hare to find ingredients to the perfumer industry – growing up surrounded by the world of scent, ‘‘I would sit in Dad’s office while he worked and smell the different bottles of fragrance on his desk’ she remembers. Blending samples and making bath salts as a child progressed to earning a business degree. Only four years after joining the family company, sadly her father died, but Amanda’s perfume passion blossomed afresh within her own fragrance house.

 

 

Marina Barcenilla – AromAtom
Part perfumer, part Space Scientist, having won awards for her aponymously named perfume house; after completing her studies in Planetary Science and Astronomy at the University of London, Marina created the house of AromAtom, because ‘As a Planetary Scientist and Astrobiologist I have thought deeply about what kind of strange and alien experiences humans might have on another planet. As a Perfumer, I know that memories and olfaction are intrinsically linked, and I have always found it easier to express my deepest thoughts and emotions through fragrance…’

 

 

Tonya Kidd-Beggs – Stories Parfums
A full-time mother of four, with two boys and twin girls to keep her busy, Tonya’s family played a significant role in her scent story: the twins inspired the brand name, that Tonya explains, ‘…pays tribute to the stories that shape our lives, from pain to beauty and from struggle to freedom.’ Having been born into the heart of Northern Ireland’s ‘troubles’, herself, and struggling to come to terms with thinking about the future curated each blend personally as a testament to the power of fragrance in her own life; Tonya’s turned her fragrant story-telling into a successful business – an inspiration to us all.

 

 

Amy Christiansen Si-AhmedSana Jardin
A former social worker whose c.v. includes time with the Bill Clinton Foundation, the Robin Hood Foundation and the Cherie Blair Foundation; Amy set about ‘changing the world, one bottle of perfume at a time.’ Working with perfumer Carlos Benaïm, she sources ingredients via a women’s co-operative where, locally, they can now market orange flower water, candles made from flower wax, and compost made from the waste flowers.

 

 

Mona KattanKayali
Huda Beauty have been wowing the world for over a decade, building an empire that went from a humble beauty blog to a blockbusting makeup and beauty business. Believing ‘scent is our most transformative part of our beauty routine, It has the power to completely change how we feel’, Mona and sister, Huda, are American-born to Iraqi immigrants, both now running their businesses from Dubai, embracing diversity and often opening up about the bullying they faced in childhood. Truly inspirational.

 

 

 

Holly HutchinsonMemoize
On her seventh birthday, Holly was gifted her very first set of miniature perfumes. As her mother was ‘an avid collector of unusual scents’, perfumes were almost indelibly linked to scented snapshots of her childhood memories. Having joined a prestigious niche fragrance brand, after several years Holly says she ‘knew immediately’ what her own concept should be: sharing the emotionally evocative memories that launched her own fragrant career, while helping perfume-lovers explore their own scented memory banks.

 

 

Olivia da Costa  – Olfactive O
From Chelsea College of Art, Olivia went on to become fascinated by scent as a literary device in turn of the century novels, while then studying English Literature. The psychology of perfume led her to working her way up from shop assistant to buyer at John Lewis, and when a friend introduced her to a distinguished perfumer, the passion became reality in her personality led, story-telling scents.

 

 

Michelle FeeneyFloral Street
Following her time at the Estée Lauder Companies, then revolutionary tanning name St Tropez, the always enterprising Michelle Feeney unveiled a fragrance line ‘built on the streets of London’. With an ethos of sustainability, the vibrant fragrances celebrate florals in a so-modern way, and from a flagship Covent Garden boutique to huge success in Sephora, these bouquets are blooming.

 

 

Ruth Mastenbroek
Having discreetly created fragrances for many famous private clients, she made the famous Grapefruit candle for Jo Malone (which Jennifer Lopez loved so much, she bought 300 for her hotel room). The first perfumer to use advanced micro-encapsulation (in a scented bathrobe) she now has her own fabulous fragrances evoking treasured memories, perfectly balanced and captured forever.

 

 

Sarah McCartney4160 Tuesdays
Having written for LUSH for 14 years, Sarah studied essential oils, acquired a small kit of rare ingredients and made her first fragrance. She then wrote a novel about ‘a woman who makes perfume to remind people of a time when they felt happy’ and turned her hobby into a business. There are 4160 Tuesdays in the average lifetime, and Sarah squeezes the scented juice out of every single one.

 

 

Emmanuelle MoeglinExperimental Perfume Club
Completing her extensive training at the French perfumery school of ISIPCA, Emanuelle worked as a Scent Design Manager for various global fragrance brands, then become an independent perfumer based in London. Wanting to make the fragrance world more inclusive, she runs incredibly popular workshops which led to her own line of exceptionally exciting scents, including kits to make your own.

 

 

Rebecca RoseTo the Fairest
Inspired by storytelling and female strength, Rebecca first explored perfume via treasured vials from her grandmother. Later, still scent-obsessed, meeting fragrance expert Lizzie Ostrum encouraged her to launch her own company. Dedicated to giving back, Rebecca donates funds to charities, including a horticultural project working with vulnerable people; and during the pandemic, Head to Toe, who support people receiving mental health, community and social care.

 

 

Nancy Meiland
Apprenticed to one of the UK’s experts in custom perfumery, Nancy began her career creating bespoke fragrances, she took her dream and made it reality – all the while, dividing her time between town and country and raising a family. Now with her own artisanal line, she has the knack of conjuring emotional responses with lyrical fragrances that are contemplative yet so effortlessly sophisticated.

 

Whichever of their fragrances you choose to explore, you will be amplifying and applauding the hard work and bravery of these female founders, every single time you spritz…

By Suzy Nightingale

What would Santa smell like…?

Responses to the question ‘What would Santa smell like?’ have revealed a wide range of answers from children all over the world, depending on their age and where they live. Perfumer Penny Williams took the most popular answers and turned them into a fragrance that teachers can use to engage school children in discussions around their sense of smell…

Lisa Hipgrave, Director of IFRA UK, who undertook the research, says ‘We are working with a group of people across the fragrance industry to develop ways to help people understand and benefit from a greater awareness of their sense of smell. Whilst this is a lighthearted approach to get us all in the Christmas spirit which we hope people will try at home, it is part of a wider piece of the work of that group. We have created a new website called fragrancematters.org to help people find out more about the importance of their sense of smell  – from new and quirky facts, to taking a deeper dive into the world of olfaction through highlighting wider research, activities and events.’

So, what were their answers? ‘Soot and sweat’ was a popular response, while others answered ‘leather, boot polish and velvet’ and ‘pine trees, from brushing past them on his journey, and from Christmas trees as he places presents under trees in hopeful homes.’ More poetically inclined children decided he might smell of ‘nose-tingling magic and moonlight’ or ‘starry nights from his journey through the night sky’ and even ‘like space, perhaps with a little whisky’. Contributions from the USA included ‘the New York night sky just before snowfall’, and Canadadian children said ‘the first snow of winter on the pine woods’, while responses from Australia included ‘countless beach barbecues’.

 

 

Unsurprisingly, food and drink was a major theme, with cinnamon, gingerbread and mince pies appearing most often. Many children think that Santa smells of milk and biscuits, until they reach around 14 years of age, when Santa’s snacks switched to ‘sherry or brandy and mince pies’.

 

British perfumer Penny Williams, Chairperson of the IFRA UK working group, Vice Chair of the IFRA UK Technical committee and founder of Orchadia Ltd, says: ‘The human sense of smell is incredible. We take around 20,000 breaths a day and each one is an opportunity to learn about our surroundings. Inside our nose are olfactory bulbs, which are linked directly to our brain and create a memory link. That is why our sense of smell is so important to our wellbeing and feeling connected. Through our noses, we can also sense temperature and humidity. Both also affect how well we can smell – and smell is also the flavour of food. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how losing our sense of smell can make us feel disconnected. Our sense of smell isn’t just about the present, it’s about the past and can create feelings of happiness and nostalgia.’ She continues:

‘We want to bring back that innocent joy, comfort and sense of happiness to pupils in the schools we are working with. However, this is such a fun experiment for anyone of any age, so we are inviting people across the UK to spark up the discussion with family and friends. Using everyday objects and a few Christmas treats you can quickly get your olfactory sense working. Our nose is connected to a part of our nervous system which is responsible for detecting heat (chilli) and cold (menthol). So, menthol, found in peppermint and often in toothpaste, has a physical cooling effect that we can feel and mince pies might create a feeling of warmth. The different sensations and feelings evoked by our sense of smell comes from many places and somehow comes together in a wonderful way: rather like Christmas.’

Using these responses, Orchadia created a special fragrance that follows Santa’s journey with a mixture of 48 traditional and modern ingredients that have made an intriguing and bold scent. Most noticeable on first spray are smoke and ozone –using the uniquely woody smokey scent of vetiver and an ingredient that smells like fresh water. Menthol hints at snow flurries in cold air. Also featured are pine needle and davana oil, which is reminiscent of Christmas pudding. There’s even the leathery scent of reins next to reindeer fur, accompanied by earthy patchouli oil. The fresh forest notes are extended with cedar, eventually fading to vanilla and soft moss. 

Victoria Osborne, Teacher at Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, says ‘The children are going to have so much fun discussing what Santa smells like as part of their STEM learning. It is a really lovely way to get them to use their own personal experiences and memories whilst also learning about the science of smell. We are going to have a science lab that smells like Christmas has come early as we will be taking time to properly breathe in the different layers of smells in mince pies and to take time to notice if something created a warm or a cooling smell.’

Children respond amazingly and often explain smells in the most creatively imaginative ways, so if you find yourself desperate for a way to entertain the kids during the holidays, why not gather together some ingredients from your pantry (and toothpaste from the bathroom!) to create a sensory station in your own home, where children can explore their sense of smell?  Ask them to smell each ingredient and describe how it smells. you can use questions we ask people to think about at our How to Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshops:

If this was a material, would it be velvet, suede, linen, fluffy towels…?

If this was a musical instrument, which would it be?

Would it be loud or quiet? High or low-pitched? Fast or slow?

What colour would this smell be?

And… which of these would Santa smell of?

 

The scent of climate change – perfumed ‘polution pods’ on display at COP26 Glasgow

Polution Pods are capturing the smell, quality and exact air temperature in places around the world via geodesic domes at the COP26 forum, where major world leaders are desperately discussing how we can work together to limit the devastating effects of climate change.

On display in Glasgow, where COP26 is currently taking place, it’s hoped that people actually stepping into the Polution Pods will dramatically evoke the conditions people are struggling to live in right now – a brilliant example of how smell can be used to engage all of our senses in artistic and politically provocative ways.

 

 

‘The Pollution Pods are a series of geodesic domes whose air quality, smell and temperature accurately recreate the pollution of five different locations on three continents: London, Beijing, São Paulo, New Delhi and Tautra, a remote peninsula in Norway. Michael Pinsky created the pods in 2017 to test whether art can change people’s perceptions of, and actions around, climate change. Now they face their greatest challenge yet – to shift the debate on air pollution and climate change to help secure real change at COP26.’

The Pollution Pods’ have been travelling to reach as many people as possible with their scented message, their journey beginning in Granary Square, London, then drifting to Birmingham, Lancaster and Newcastle and where ‘accompanied by Ride for their Lives – staff from six UK children’s hospitals who cycled 800km from London to Glasgow to deliver messages from the international health community including the Healthy Climate Prescription Letter, signed by 450 medical organisations across the globe.’

The Pollution Pods have been constructed by students from the University of East London and have been generously supported by the Clean Air Fund with additional sponsorship from Airlabs and BuildwithHubs.

If you’re anywhere near Glasgow, we usrge you to experience the scents in person – it really is extraordinary how smell can allow us to travel immediately, via our noses. Obviously we usually prefer doing this with fabulous fine fragrances that take us to exotic locations and happy holiday memories, but it behoves us all to take climate change seriously, and to appreciatel how scent can be used in more artistic, environmentally important ways. 

 

The Polution Pods will remain on display – FREE to enter – in Glasgow until November 12th, and all details of where and how to experience them can be found at whatsonglasgow.co.uk 

By Suzy Nightingale

IFRA Fragrance Forum 2021 – Hidden Depths: Memory, language & the sense of place.

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.

Even better news: YOU can buy tickets to attend!

Event details

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.”

Why do essential oils exist? Scientists discover plants detect insect attacks by ‘sniffing’ each other

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.

Insects

Decoding these signals could teach us how to better protect crops against insects, according to Prof. Erb.

Insects are responsible for destroying one-fifth of the world’s total crop production each year. This is predicted to rise further for grain crops with climate change, hitting the temperate zones hardest.

‘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.

 

Why do essential oils exist?

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.

 

Why do essential oils exist?

 

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.

Nose

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.’

The research in this article has been funded by the EU’s European Research Council. This post Plants can detect insect attacks by ‘sniffing’ each other’s aromas was originally published on Horizon: the EU Research & Innovation magazine | European Commission.

How to find a new fragrance – tips & tricks to try before you buy

We’ve learned all manner of tips and tricks at The Perfume Society, which we’re thrilled to share with you, here. We’ve been privileged to meet some of the world’s best perfumers and foremost fragrance experts over the last seven years we’ve been going, and want to share their advice with you, below.

If you want a fabulous new fragrance to try, need tips on how to smell it as a perfumer does or how to describe what you’re smelling, consider some of these most useful fragrant facts to help you enjoy your fragrances even more…

Your taste in fragrance changes over the years – just as in food preference – and depends on weather, what you’ve eaten recently, your mood and hormones. So, take your time to explore a new scent out of your comfort range.

Spray on a blotter first and come back to it at hourly intervals. Write down your initial thoughts, then re-try a few days (and weeks) later.

Many perfumers trained for more years than a heart surgeon, memorising ingredients by connecting their smell to personal scent memories and images that immediately spring to mind, unbidden.

Smell has no distinct language. If you’re struggling to describe a scent, try likening it to fabric (is it velvety, suede-like, cotton fresh, silken or fluffy?) Perhaps it reminds you of music (played on which instruments? Fast or slow?) Or you might picture a place – imagine the air temperature and scenery it evokes…

Your nose gets used to smelling the same things, so avoid wearing the same thing daily. Try layering to re-awaken your senses or branch out with exciting new discoveries!

Like all artists, perfumers tend to have a certain style. If you fall in love with one (we’re predicting several) of these, research them online: we bet you’ll fall for others.

Scent molecules are volatile and evaporate at differing rates. Citruses are lightest, often found in top notes and disappearing rapidly; florals tend to be in the heart while base notes are heavier, woody or resinous. Make these stages last FAR longer by using matching or unscented body lotion, spray into your hair or on clothes (after testing on tissue!)

Undecided? Spray on a scarf rather than skin: you can take it off and sniff again, later! Spraying on fabric (or your hair) also helps make it last far longer as the molecules don’t warm up so quickly (or evaporate) as on skin. As does…

Use an unscented (or matching) body lotion or oil. Fragrance doesn’t last long on dry skin (or in hot climates). It clings far longer to moisturised skin – so slather up, then spray.

Don’t know what to try next? Use our simple Find a Fragrance tool: just type the name of a fragrance you already know and love, and the so-clever algorithm suggests six new scents with similar characters to try.

Fragrance samples are THE best way to try new things, dive nose-first into a whole new house you’ve never tried or perhaps a differing perfume family than you’d normally go for.

We know that a full bottle can be a big investment and not everyone happens to live near a shop with a great selection. That’s why we put together carefully curated Discovery Boxes. Our Launches We Love Discovery Box is a stunning selection of new names, with gorgeous mini bottles and generous samples from niche and luxury houses we know you’re going to love as much as we do…

By Suzy Nightingale

Why are smell memories so strong? New research reveals startling results

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.

By Suzy Nightingale

Wake up and smell the coral – and climate change?

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 know that 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…’

By Suzy Nightingale

Bottling the smell of happiness to help treat depression…?

Can you bottle the smell of happiness to treat depression? Scientists are currently reseraching if ‘a spray of happiness’ could be one way to help, according to an article by Alex Whiting in Horizon magazine...

Our bodies produce different scents when we feel happy or afraid. These so-called chemosignals – which are in fact odourless – are believed to trigger happiness or fear in others. It is one of the ways smell impacts people’s social interactions.

‘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,’ said Enzo Pasquale Scilingo, a professor at the Department of Information Engineering at the University of Pisa, Italy.

Similarly, the smell of happiness can inspire a positive state in other people, says Prof. Scilingo.

‘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,’ Prof. Scilingo said.

He hopes scientists can produce one within a few years. This could be particularly important in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, with cases of depression rising especially among young people.

‘I don’t want to say having this spray will (cure) people, but I think it’s a very beautiful contribution,’ Prof. Scilingo said.

Sweat

He is coordinating a project called POTION which is researching these chemosignals. The researchers use videos to induce fear or happiness in people, and then collect their sweat to analyse which chemical compounds are released with each emotion.

‘The next step is to synthesise the odours and … investigate how they induce emotions in others,’ said Prof. Scilingo.

Eventually, fear odours and people’s responses to them could be used to help psychiatrists understand more about different aspects of phobias and depression. And happiness odours could be used to help in treatment.

‘If we can use the odour of happiness in addition to the usual treatment for phobias or depression, we (could) increase the efficacy of the therapy,’ said Prof. Scilingo.

The POTION researchers are also investigating how odours impact people’s social interactions, and sense of inclusion or exclusion from others.

Previous research has found that a person’s emotional state can influence how they respond to other people – and how others respond to them, Prof. Scilingo says. Someone feeling fear is less likely to approach or trust people, and others are likely to be wary of them. And the reverse is true for happiness – the happier someone is, the more likely they are both to trust others and to attract them, says Prof. Scilingo.

Mammals

In mammals, the sense of smell is uniquely linked to the part of the brain associated with emotions and the creation of memories, says Dr Lisa Roux, researcher at the Interdisciplinary Institute for Neuroscience in France.

Smell is important for recognition between people. A mother can recognise the smell of her child, for example, and this may be an important part of bonding, she said.

‘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,’ said Dr Roux.

The first region of the brain that processes chemosignals – the olfactory bulb – is directly connected to the limbic system, which controls the ability to identify another individual, the formation of memories, and manages emotional responses.

All other senses – taste, hearing, sight and touch – are processed by other regions of the brain before being linked to the limbic system.

This may be because smell has been the most important sense for the survival of species. ‘Chemical signalling is very important, even for bacteria. It’s a very ancient modality, it’s really key,’ Dr Roux said.

‘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

Pleasure and pain

The sense of smell is linked to pleasure and depression, possibly because of its unique link to the limbic system.

Up to a third of people with a defective sense of smell experience symptoms of depression, according to a research paper published in 2014.

This may be partly because of their loss of sense of taste, and concerns about personal hygiene and social interactions. But it is also likely that olfactory loss affects the brain’s functioning and in particular its emotional control, authors of the paper said.

‘This might be because the olfactory system is directly linked to the limbic regions – which include the amygdala that is very important for controlling emotions,’ said Dr Roux.

Mice

Dr Roux is principal investigator of sociOlfa, a project looking at how a mouse brain processes chemosignals when it encounters a new individual, and then uses them to create memories.

‘Mice interact a lot by smelling the different body parts of other mice, and the nature of the smell will carry rich information (such as) the social status of the other individual,’ said Dr Roux.

Animals use scent to mark – and detect – territory. In experimental conditions, if two mice fight, the one that wins will mark an area with its scent using urine. The subordinate one will also release a scent but only in one spot.

‘A dominant mouse will have specific molecules to indicate they are dominant ones. And a sick animal will have signs of sickness within this odour mixture,’ she said.

Female mice use scent to select a mate – usually preferring an unfamiliar male possibly because it promotes genetic diversity, says Dr Roux.

‘For me it’s a (form of) language. It’s a way to communicate important information within a social group, important to maintain the hierarchy within the group, and it’s very important for reproduction,’ said Dr Roux.

Studying how mouse brains process chemosignals will help researchers understand general principles of how their brains form social memories, says Dr Roux.

And the results may be relevant in people too. Understanding how the mouse brain processes chemosignals during social interactions and when forming memories of an individual could help scientists identify what happens when these functions go wrong – for example, in mouse models of autism.

Eventually this could also help scientists understand what happens in people whose ability to recognise others is impaired – for example those with Alzheimer’s – or those who have difficulties with social interactions caused by autism.

The research in this article was funded by the EU. If you liked this article, please consider sharing it on social media.’

This post Bottling the smell of happiness to help treat depression was originally published on Horizon: the EU Research & Innovation magazine | European Commission.

Taste & Flavour – FREE cookbook for Covid sufferers who’ve lost their sense of smell

Up to 80% of what we taste is actually relayed through smell, and a FREE cookbook, Taste & Flavour, has been written to help those who’ve lost their sense of smell following Covid…

When it first came to light that many of those people who’d had or were still suffering with Covid-19 were experiencing loss of taste and smell, Life Kitchen said, ‘our first thought was – what can we do to help?’ Having undertaken extensive research, and garnered the help of experts such as Professor Barry Smith, from the University of London, the anosmia (smell loss) charity Abscent, and Altered Eating; it was ‘discovered that Covid-related taste and smell loss has some distinctive features.’ These included people who ‘found they didn’t want to eat certain, quite common ingredients, including onions, garlic, meat and eggs,’ while additionally (and upsettingly), ‘certain foodstuffs seemed to trigger parosmia (changes to or distortion of the sense of smell), anosmia (loss of smell) and phantosmia (smelling something that isn’t there).’

The loss of smell (and therefore taste) has been devastating to those already suffering other symptoms and feeling isolated, and we’ve written several articles on anosmia and parosmia previously, including an explanation of the help Abscent can offer – with anosmic Louise Woolham writing a feature in our just-published edition of The Scented Letter magazine. The idea behind the book, the authors say, is to be ‘a collection of recipes, ideas and expertise to help you on your journey towards enjoying food again.’

 

 

As Life Kitchen comment, and we know from the reports of many post-Covid patients: ‘Any of these olfactory conditions can have a profound knock-on effect for physical and mental health.’ So, what to do for immediate and – most importantly – practical help if you’ve lost your sense of smell and can’t taste the food you once enjoyed…?

Ryan Riley and Kimberley Duke worked with the smell and taste experts, to produce this recipe and self-help book. And – SO generously – they’ve not only produced printed copies you can purchase on the website for only £3.00 to cover postage costs, but have made a digital copy FREE to download, so they can help even if you can’t afford the book right now, and no matter where you are in the world.

‘Using our five principles of taste and flavour – umami, smell, stimulating the trigeminal nerve (responsible for sensation in the face), texture, and layering flavour’ they explain, ‘we’ve taught over 1,000 people with cancer to enjoy food again. We wanted to apply these principles to create recipes for those people who have lost their senses of taste and smell as a result of Covid.

 

Taste & Flavour: A cookbook to inspire those experiencing changes in taste and smell as a result of Covid by Ryan Riley & Kimberley Duke

Dowload the FREE digital edition, here.

Print copies available at: lifekitchen.co.uk

By Suzy Nightingale