kottke.org posts about smell
Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation came out ten years ago but this chapter on how much the taste and smell of food is chemically manipulated is still well worth a read.
Today's sophisticated spectrometers, gas chromatographs, and headspace-vapor analyzers provide a detailed map of a food's flavor components, detecting chemical aromas present in amounts as low as one part per billion. The human nose, however, is even more sensitive. A nose can detect aromas present in quantities of a few parts per trillion -- an amount equivalent to about 0.000000000003 percent. Complex aromas, such as those of coffee and roasted meat, are composed of volatile gases from nearly a thousand different chemicals. The smell of a strawberry arises from the interaction of about 350 chemicals that are present in minute amounts. The quality that people seek most of all in a food -- flavor -- is usually present in a quantity too infinitesimal to be measured in traditional culinary terms such as ounces or teaspoons. The chemical that provides the dominant flavor of bell pepper can be tasted in amounts as low as 0.02 parts per billion; one drop is sufficient to add flavor to five average-size swimming pools. The flavor additive usually comes next to last in a processed food's list of ingredients and often costs less than its packaging. Soft drinks contain a larger proportion of flavor additives than most products. The flavor in a twelve-ounce can of Coke costs about half a cent.
While listing his ten favorite fragrances, NY Times perfume critic Chandler Burr recalls Luca Turin's definition of chic.
Luca once called something chic, and I asked him why, or rather what "chic" was exactly. He sighed and said despairingly, "Chic is the most impossible thing to define." He thought about it. "Luxury is a humorless thing, largely. Chic is all about humor. Which means chic is about intelligence. And there has to be oddness -- most luxury is conformist, and chic cannot be. Chic must be polite, but within that it can be as weird as it wants."
(via gold digger)
Mayor Bloomberg held a press conference today to address the mysterious maple syrup smell sporadically experienced by New Yorkers since 2005. The cause? Fenugreek seeds.
The source of the odor was a plant in North Bergen, N.J., which processes seeds of the herb fenugreek to produce fragrances.
Update: Gothamist has more details.
Henry Molaison -- more widely known as H.M. -- died last week at 82. Molaison was an amnesiac and the study of his condition revealed much about the workings of the human brain. He lost his long-term memory after a surgery in 1953 and couldn't remember anything after that for more than 20 seconds or so.
Living at his parents' house, and later with a relative through the 1970s, Mr. Molaison helped with the shopping, mowed the lawn, raked leaves and relaxed in front of the television. He could navigate through a day attending to mundane details -- fixing a lunch, making his bed -- by drawing on what he could remember from his first 27 years.
Molly Birnbaum was training to be a chef in Boston when she got hit by a car and lost her sense of smell. Soon after, she moved to New York.
Without the aroma of car exhaust, hot dogs or coffee, the city was a blank slate. Nothing was unbearable and nothing was especially beguiling. Penn Station's public restroom smelled the same as Jacques Torres's chocolate shop on Hudson Street. I knew that New York possessed a further level of meaning, but I had no access to it, and I worked hard to ignore what I could not detect.
Update: Here's another take on anosmia and Birnbaum's article.
In the first year of my recovery, I regularly visited both a neurologist and neuropsychologist who both disputed this claim. They told me that smell and taste, although related, are essentially exclusive. If anything, my neuropsychologist told me, smell is more integrated with memory.
In my experience, I've found this to be true: I have not lost my love of food; in fact, I feel like my appreciation for flavor combinations have been heightened. Milk does not taste like a "viscous liquid" to me and ice cream is certainly more than just "freezing." Similarly, a good wine is more than tasting the acids, a memorable dessert is more than simply sweet, and french fries do not taste like salty nothing-sticks.
Perfumer Christopher Brosius has a little shop in Brooklyn, out of which he offers several surprising and offbeat perfumes.
When my parents visited New York, I gave them a tour of my favourite scents in the shop. This took some time: the accords include clever riffs on the smell of rubber, from the intoxicating Inner Tube to a just-short-of-noxious Rubber Cement. Equally impressive is Wet Pavement, which strikes me as wearable, even pretty. Burning Leaves is startlingly alluring, and Ink smells so authentic that I held up the bottle to show my mother that the fluid was clear and not an indelible blue. Roast Beef is predictably revolting, but still a must-smell. My mother lingered over In the Library, a blend that Christopher describes as "First Edition, Russian and Moroccan Leather, Binding Cloth and a hint of Wood Polish".
Unsurprisingly, Brosius also created the Demeter line of fragrances, featuring scents like Creme Brulee, Wet Garden, Funeral Home, Dirt, and Sugar Cookie.
In remembrance of her grandmother, Chicagoan Jessica Dunne created her own perfume called Ellie.
She sought out Michel Roudnitska, a perfumer who lives in France, to be her collaborator. Her family in her hometown of Villanova, Pa., served as her focus group. A friend volunteered to tie by hand the grosgrain ribbon bow that decorates each package. Then Ms. Dunne cold-called Claudia Lucas, the perfume buyer at Henri Bendel in Manhattan, and asked whether she could send a sample of the perfume.
More information about Ellie, as well as a more contemporary scent called Ellie Nuit, is available on Dunne's site.
New Japanese device records smells for later playback. Smell is the sense most associated with memory, so this could be quite a compelling personal history recorder.
Syrupy sweet smell in Manhattan yesterday still unexplained. There were reports from all over the city, but air tests and investigations revealed very little.
Among the featured designs at the National Design Triennial was the Demeter Fragrance Library. The company, run by Christophers Brosius and Gable, puts out perfumes, lotions, soaps, candles, and body gels with scents like Creme Brulee, Wet Garden, Funeral Home, Dirt, and Sugar Cookie. According to this article in Happi, the New Zealand fragrance was developed for the Lord of the Rings movie and Demeter's odd scents might have other uses:
Tomato, for example, was found to be an odor absorber. Some of the edible fragrances are said to help curb cravings. And though the company has yet to perform psychological tests, researchers said the Dirt fragrance made Alzheimer patients more lucid.
Perhaps I should tag along with Meg the next time she goes to Sephora. (Never thought I'd find myself saying that...)