Monday, January 14, 2013

Monkey Monday: Living Through The Nose

Vanilla Beans by Daniel Hurst Photography
Vanilla Beans, a photo by Daniel Hurst Photography on Flickr.
My vanilla bean jar broke, and so I had to find another jar... While transferring the bundle of moist beans, their robust aroma clung to my fingers. For hours, I could smell a rich, balsamic, slightly woodsy scent emanating from my fingers. Vanilla is a unique aroma in that it purely positive, always recalling grandma's baking and similar homely comforts and overall goodness. It's hard to think of a way to kill vanilla for me, definitely not the pure extract or whole vanilla beans. But as I was living with vanilla on my palms for nearly a day - I could also smell a hint of what I found disturbingly reminiscent of indole: That substance which is more commonly associated with ripe bodies, human feces and (more positively) jasmine and other heady white flowers.

Idole naturally occurs in a number of things, ranging from bonito flakes, butter, fish, egg, malt, tobacco and rum to white flowers such as jasmine, narcissus and ylang ylang. I'm still not finding much literature suggesting it occurs in vanilla (save for one place that suggests using it in vanilla flavouring) but that's what my nose tells me. 

The disturbing discovery that the eternally comforting scent of vanilla, that single scent with no negative association, might actually contain the controversially-scented molecule of indole made me realize how much I have grown to literally live through my nose. I assess - and immediately cast judgement - on anything I encounter in my life based on scent alone. And this is not restricted to food and beverages alone: I sniff out anything and anywhere, as long as I can breathe in it: dwellings and living spaces, banks, clinics, street corners, corner stores, pharmacies - you name it. I've always been that way, tending to visit friends more often if I like the scent of their home... And I could literally smell danger in my house - i.e. the mood change of my family members - just by smell alone.

After making perfumery my profession - this has become even "worse" of course. I notice every detail when it comes to scents and smells around me, which I personally enjoy most of the time. But sometimes I wonder if it might come across as obsessive or irrational to the "normal" people around me...

The other side effect of being very scent-concious is that a lot of "nice" commercial scents that I used to like or at least enjoy getting a whiff of are losing their mystique once I become acquainted with some of the modern day molecules that dominant them. Scents can seem a lot more alluring when you don't actually know what's in them... On the other hand, my appreciation of more subtle (and more often than never - the purely natural) goodies from tea and wine to fine fragrances has increased ten fold since I began strolling this path. I can now enjoy the muskiness of ambretolide that's whispering through scents containing ambrette seed essences - including some of the more subtle of my own creations (i.e.: Kinmokusei), which now I can enjoy their complexities much more than before. The ionones, which before were only a guess of what they were and how they behaved are revealing more of their beauty to me, including in some of my favourite oolong teas. I can sense the bracing spiciness of clove's eugenol peaking through the innocent looking ylang ylang. And, apparently, I can discover indole in my kitchen.

Have you experienced a heightened awareness related to the sense of smell in daily life that was surprising, disturbing, mind-opening or just plain delightful? How does the sense of smell change your daily life?

Post a comment and enter to win a decant of the ambrette-seed laden No. 18 by Chanel (part of their Les Exclusifs collection).

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At January 17, 2013 6:18 PM, Anonymous BridgetTheodore said...

When I was pregnant, I noticed my sense of smell was heightened and I seemed to be smelling more...vividly. I was obsessed with grapefruits and the aroma of them were like citrusy floral fireworks in my nostrils. On the other hand, bacon (which I normally ador) seemed to have smells I didn't notice before...and I was revolted. I guess it's some evolutionary magic to keep you from eating sketchy foods.

At January 17, 2013 7:43 PM, Blogger Ms. Watson said...

Smell is connected to the sense of taste. I have studied wine, and have experience as a professional pastry chef. After long days of work only tasting on an empty-ish stomach, vanilla became a scent/taste to avoid in wine and body products, thought I still use it occasionally in baking. Now I work in the field of visual impairment and blindness, where senses are used efficiently. Vanilla still seems cloying to me. I much prefer the subtle bitterness and herbal qualities of anise and love Kimokusei!

At January 18, 2013 7:12 AM, Anonymous Shonagh @ An Offal Experiment said...

I live through scent as well, it has always been a primary sense for me. I smell everything! Lately though, I've become more interested in how people really smell rather than what scents they cover themselves us with. If I do like a manufactured scent, essential oil based perfumes are far preferable because of their complexity. Commercial perfumes with lab-created notes tend to be too cloying. Your perfumes are gorgeous and rich!


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