The Real Reason Sweets Smell Sweet
Our nose knows a lot more than it tells. How so?
Basic Science of Scents - How Do We Identify Smell?
It is now estimated that we can remember about one thousand odours and distinguish one trillion diverse fragrances, depending on our age, experience and natural sensitivity. Our fine-tuning receptor of the scents can distinguish different smells even though their chemical compounds are similar. However, our linguistic ability to actually name a particular smell lags far behind.
In order to be detectable by our noses, scents chemicals need to be small (molecular weight < 300 Da) and volatile. When we smell something, our body will send nerve impulses to our brain, which learns to associate the smell with the original substance (such as a rose). This will let us recognize the object even when it's hidden (such as when entering a house and knowing someone just had a meal) or classify it as unknown (such as when we stay a luxury hotel for the first time).
Millions of sensory neurons, used in the process of smelling, can detect thousands of different aromas and transmit electrical impulses to a micro-region in the brain. Then, our brain interprets these "odorant patterns" as smell. In 2004, American biologists; Richard Axel and Linda Buck discovered this concept and received a Noble Prize.
What Makes Our Nose so Special?
It is not simply a vehicle to smell beautiful flowers; it is much more. Our sense of smell has contributed to human development for centuries.
- We can taste food thanks to the ability to smell.
- Our unique body odours affect our choice of partners.
- We can sense danger by smells.
- Certain scents can trigger our memories.
- The fragrance of a product may be a significant driving force for purchase decisions.
The Sweetness of Things Around Us.
Why Do Flowers Smell Sweet?
A simple answer to this is to attract pollinators, but how exactly?
According to Scientific American journal, although flowers can be identical in colour or shape, no two floral scents are the same. Each flower's scent signals pollinators to a particular flower whose nectar and/or pollen is the reward. Species pollinated by bees and flies have sweet scents. In contrast, those pollinated by beetles have strong, musty, spicy, or fruity smells. Each type of insect can recognize different types of flowers, and flowers sometimes give out several odours to attract different insect species.
What are Sweet Scents Made of?
The sweet scent you smell from fruits, sweets, or flowers is thanks to volatile organic compounds such as Aroma-active alcohols > c3 (account for sweet or pungent smell), and Geraniol and Linalool (account for fresh and floral smell). Ethyl maltol is an organic compound that smells like caramelized sugar and cooked fruit. Consequently, it’s also responsible for cotton candy scents.
As a kid, we associate happiness and joy with the sweet scents of candy, one of the first scents you will remember. One of the possible reasons why most kids will come to like the sweet scent first in their life is because there are almost no poisonous foods in nature that are sweet. Thus, when children associate the sweet scent with something safe, they will favor it first.
What do sweet scents remind you of? Gummies, lollipops, caramels, Chupa Chups, mentos, to name a few.. and of course, we cannot talk about sweet scents without mentioning Cotton Candy!
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