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Chemistry of Flavour

Learn more about the chemistry of flavour.

Favourite Smells

A survey of 2000 UK adults in 2015 showed that freshly baked bread was their favourite smell, followed by bacon, newly-mown grass then coffee. Interestingly, other than newly-mown grass, they are things that can help make a home more warm and welcoming. Food and drink smell featured heavily in the poll with orange, coconut, Christmas cake, lime, and doughnuts proving popular. Cherry, marzipan, popcorn, and wine also made the top 50 as well as cheese and biscuits.

At the other end of the spectrum, bins were named the most disliked smell, along with drains, body odour, sewage, vomit and rotten milk and food.

Researchers found that 60% of people believed there are certain smells that remind them of particular people or places, while 70% associated a smell with memory.

What is your favourite food or drink smell and does it remind you of anything?

For the thiol fans, you might like to know that according to the 2000 Guinness Book of World Records, ethanethiol (CH3CH2SH) is the ‘smelliest substance in existence’.

Smells Good?

Aside from foods and drinks, perhaps one or more of these everyday fragrances will interest you? (Organic compounds that contribute to the aroma are shown in brackets.)

New car smell (toluene, ethylbenzene, styrene, xylenes)

Wet dog smell (benzaldehyde, phenylethanal, ethanal, phenol, 2-methylbutanal)

Halitosis or bad breath (methanethiol, hydrogen sulfide, dimethyl sulfide)

Rain (palmitic acid, stearic acid)

Old books (benzaldehyde, vanillin, ethylbenzene, toluene, 2-ethylhexanol)

Newly-mown grass ((Z)-3-hexenal, (E)-2-hexenal, (Z)-3-hexenyl ethanoate, methanol, ethanol)

Headline News – Love It or Hate It

Researchers at York have discovered a potential link between eating Marmite and activity in the brain. It appears that Marmite increases levels of a specific neurotransmitter – known as GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid, H2NCH2CH2CH2CO2H) – in the brain. This is likely due to the high concentration of vitamin B12 in Marmite. So, dietary intervention may affect GABA imbalances, which are associated with a variety of neurological disorders.

Tongues Detect Odours

New research indicates the tongue detects not just taste, but also odours. In this work, human taste cells responded to fragrances, including a clove-scented compound called eugenol (C10H12O2), even though the concentration of these substances was below the level necessary to trigger a taste response. It opens up the possibility of using odours to trick us into healthier eating. For example, adding a very low concentration of an odour to a food could make us think it is sweeter than it is – thereby reducing the need for sugar and helping tackle the obesity crisis.

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Exploring Everyday Chemistry

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