young americans


When Bowie sang about American youth in 1975, he probably didn’t realize that their carefree ignorance extended to their sense of smell. According to a recent study by a Dutch researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and Radboud University, olfactory knowledge varies significantly from culture to culture and generation to generation. Read this lovely New York Times article by TM Luhrmann. For some of the team’s publications check out Prof. Majid’s site and Prof. Levinson’s site.

Of the global study groups, Americans had great difficulty identifying common smells like cinnamon or turpentine. Younger people across the globe also had a more limited smell vocabulary than their elder compatriots. The good news is that training your nose is possible. Memory games can help individuals build their personal scent database. Simply smelling more things and paying attention to odors in general will help. Get ideas here on

memory and smell

Even before Proust, scent has played an integral role in memory-making and memory recall throughout history. One has only to consider the vast tomes of naturalist fiction, only the tip of the iceberg. It is one of the key senses in creating an immersive experience whether on the page, in conversation, and now, in the virtual realm of screens. The rising popularity of digital scent memoirs is also strong testimony.

Alzheimer’s researchers are continuing to investigate the relationship between olfaction and memory. For some time, they have known that the loss of smell or anosmia is a sure sign of the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. Now teams are trying to determine how special scents can be used strategically as stimuli in patients struggling with dementia and memory loss.

Belgian fashion collective Margiela is tapping into the rich digital space for scent memory. Their fragrance line replica has spurred a social project to mine sensory-rich, smell-inspired or evocative photos via Instagram. All are invited to share their personal smell images like this lovely post by Mimi Frou Frou  by tagging photos with #smellslikememories.

Here’s my very first scent memory  and a smell image to accompany it:maplesyrupPhoto courtesy of

I will never be able to separate the smell of maple syrup from my unsophisticated yet eager five-year-old nose, from my five-year-old skin. My tiny curious self, trudging through a maple farm in the bright, crunchy snow, puzzling at the plastic jugs parasitically strapped to the maple trees’ wispy figures. These dainty giants stood at attention in service of the warm glowing cabin and its endless stream of billowing white smoke. I remember wondering if the trees were in fact bleeding. The smoke filling my nostrils with warm woodiness, goodness of the  slender forest overtook the tingly icy chill of winter’s air tickling my bare cheeks. The dim light of dusk cast an overwhelming blanket of mystery over this place, which at that moment seemed to me as secret and profound as the other side of the coat closet in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe must’ve been for those fictional children I would read about a few years later. These great clouds of smoke filled my wool scarf, wrapped tightly around my neck, over my coat, catching the condensation of that fantastic new scent dripping from my nose. How amazed I was by the rich sensations. How strange that in my memory, I am virtually alone, except for the incredulous, excited glances fired between my sister and I. Stranger yet that my memory is absolutely silent, and that this heavy silence is a crucial part of the experience that is today only awakened by the accidental thought that I love the smell of maple, but not its taste. Perhaps this is because no bottle I’ve opened to this day has had the power to bring me back to the feeling I’ve just described, the intoxicating novelty of witnessing the magical birth of maple syrup in the New Hampshire countryside. You see, the scent of maple is vision, quietude, sensation, and awe. It is too rare to be plucked from the shelf out of a crude grocery store lineup, too precious to be cavalierly spilt in public, among strangers, over pancakes or waffles or bacon.


Take a small stick of cinnamon, or a maple branch, if one is handy.

Put a dram of very peaty scotch into a small glass or bowl. A very smoky cognac, brandy or armagnac will do.

Drizzle a bit of maple syrup into the scotch. It will sink to the bottom.

Get a match (ones that light fire logs are even better).

At dusk, preferably during the winter or fall, bundle up in coat and wool scarf.

Gather your scotch-maple glass, stick and matches and go outside.

Light the stick or branch just until it smoke a bit, like an incense stick and wave it under your nose.

Throw back the scotch and maple, making sure to lick the last bit of maple from the bottom of the glass or bowl so it is the last taste you have.

Enjoy the warm. smoky, sweet, stickiness of maple against the chilly mystery of winter dusk.

For maximum enjoyment, do this alone.

smells unseen


Photo courtesy of

The small town of Herford, located between Hanover and Dusselforf, is home to Frank Gehry-designed Marta Herford museum. From June 8 – June 15, 2014 you can test and train your sense of smell. Belgian artist Peter De Cupere uses scratch and sniff technology in his invisible (SCENT) paintings of olfactory art, which is part of an interactive sculpture and architecture show.

JUNE 8 – 15
Marta Herford
Goebenstraße 4–10, 32052 Herford
Fon +49.5221.994430-0
How to get to Marta Herford with Google Maps


bringing molecular gastronomy home


Photo courtesy of

The Canadian molecular gastronomy company, Molécule-R is tackling a new frontier in taste and home dining. They are about to release aroma-diffusing forks and spoons – Aromafork, at $58.98 CD and Aromaspoon $24.95 CD – add various aromas to each sip or bite. They call these enhancements ‘volatile flavoring kits,’ which are available for pre-order slated for release June-July 2014.

aroma-r-evolution (1)Photo courtesy of

continuing education

ImagePhoto courtesy of Odette Toilette

Noses in the Big Smoke are lucky to have Odette Toilette, the founder of a thriving olfactory event scene in London. Her scratch + sniff nights provide rich olfactive adventure and education.

Californians can take a more institutional yet no less exciting approach to olfactive training at one of perfumer and wine consultant Alexandre Schmitt‘s seminars as he travels wine country across the state.

As the latest smell research shows, participating in scent events like these trains your brain and nose to smell a wider range and greater nuances in smells.

the medium is the massage

smell taste touch sing

Read a wonderful article on the brief history of olfactory stimulation in marketing. From Smell-o-Vision smell-o-vision Photo by Santa Clara County Library 

to smellizing to the latest scent-emitting ophone app,

Image Photo by Vapor Communications

it covers a few milestones in scent technology. Although this is in no way exhaustive of olfactive technology in the 20th and 21st century, if you’re curious about the next level of immersive sensory marketing and media, this is a must read.

the scent of rock


John Waters would be proud: Twangy 60s-inspired rockers The Black Lips are taking a cue from his unforgettable film Polyester by layering the aesthetic experience of visual art with smells. Predictable olfactory accompaniments include garbage, weed appear in a line-up with some more ambitious scents like cedar wood, squid ink, semen, and ‘moon.’ The band say that their latest shows will be enhanced by a scent diffusion machine, a device they commissioned from some French friends. So far, one concert-goer has reported no special odors beyond that of those from your average rock venue. Perhaps they should seek out venues in a more sterile environment with little to no ambient smell. A science lab? Keep your nostrils open when they blow into your town.

Polyester trailer and scent cards for sale on Ebay.

we smell a lot


The internet is abuzz with news from a recent study at Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute claiming a breakthrough in our understanding of human olfaction. Despite long-held beliefs that human ability to smell is poor by comparison to our sense of sight and the olfactory ability of other mammals, Dr. Andreas Keller and his team now have compelling evidence that we can smell a great deal if we pay attention, up to the trillions of distinct odors. Time to start training our brains to work harder on all that enters our mouth and nostrils!

For more information on similar work defending the human sense of smell and taste, check out John Prescott’s Taste Matters, Gordon Shepherd’s Neurogastronomy, and Hervé This’ Molecular Gastronomy.