Tag Archives: smells

This year I bought less and spent more time outdoors, away from the smells of Christmas cheer | Ben O’Mara

I’m no Scrooge, but this December, I kept my fake, plastic smelling Christmas tree and all its baubles boxed up in a drawer under my bed.

I inherited the tree from my grandfather. The tree is fibre optic and when it’s turned on twinkles red, green, purple, white and blue. If you lean in close, you can smell its branches – they have a faint but strange tangy odour and remind me a little of rubber, and glue.

When I smell plastic things like my Christmas tree, I think of my grandfather, and how I struggled to talk with him towards the end of his life. Sometimes, I tell myself that the emphysema made breathing and talking difficult for him and awkward for us both. But most of the time, normally when I’m putting up my fake little tree, I find myself wishing I’d had the guts to say more.

Real Christmas trees like pines release hydrocarbons into the air that help create a sharp and sweet smell. It’s a scent beloved by many, associated with the fun of decorating its feathery green branches with tinsel, or placing gifts around its trunk.

Of course, the smell of a pine tree is only one scent in the rich aromatic experience of Christmas. Many foods eaten at Christmas have distinctive scents. There is the meaty and fruity smell of honey glazed ham. Fresh lobster has a strong, fishy odour. And the smell of gingerbread is powerful and spicy.

The smells of Christmas trees and food reflect some of the best things about Christmas – of celebrating with loved ones as another year draws to a close, and of giving to others without expecting anything in return.

Not everything smells like Christmas cheer when Santa comes to town, however. In fact, many smells of December are downright rank. Like the acrid pungence of vomit from a drunk train passenger who had too much booze at a work Christmas party. Or the fetid stink released from garbage cans filled with large amounts of rotting leftover food. Just waiting in a shopping centre queue on a hot day can have its own oppressive odour as the heavy stink of sweating human bodies mixes together in the air. And few smells are more abrasive than the stinging whiff of urine soaked alleyways and gutters in the city after a night of Christmas partying.

Many smells of Christmas are on the nose, and they are visceral reality checks for when the forces of commercialisation overtake a time of celebration. Comfort and joy are not found with others, but in consumer goods, and sometimes to excess.

The world is filled with scents that might be doing us more harm than good, a phenomenon which Kate Grenville writes about in her book, The Case Against Fragrance. Grenville traces the business interests driving the development of products like air freshners, scented candles and incense, and the health risks associated with these products, noting that,

Aromatherapy has a lot to answer for: there’s a vague assumption that any kind of scent in the air must be good for you.”

Christmas has its own aromatherapy of sorts, one created from food and drink, decorations and presents, a smellscape that, when indulged too much, is all about money, and not the people close to us.

As trite as this sounds, this December I tried to buy less and spend more time outdoors, away from the smells of Christmas cheer.

I avoided the mouth watering aroma of cookies and cakes baking in the oven. I missed out on catch ups at the pub and drinking those citrus smelling craft beers.

Instead, I exercised as the sun rose, on grassy smelling fields near my home. I walked through the salty air on a warm, sandy beach. And I went bushwalking with someone I love.

We walked through the giant trees of the dense bush, up rocky paths, and to the top of a tall hill. The air was crisp and carried a warm hint of eucalyptus. We sat down and in silence stared at the tiny streets and buildings of the city far below us. I forgot about work, whether my family would like the presents I’d bought them, and my worries about money. The best and the worst things of a manic year seemed to fade away.

I felt grateful for my time in the rough beauty of the Australian bush with its refreshing, earthy aromas, and to simply be alive and present with someone who cared for me. It was one of the best Christmas presents I’d ever given myself.

I broke a tradition this year by not putting up my grandfather’s fibre optic plastic smelling Christmas tree. But I know he would understand that I needed more than a scent inspired, nostalgic connection to the past.

Christmas is over now, but I wish I could have just one more day with my grandfather spent walking in the bush. We wouldn’t need presents, or a Christmas tree, real or fake. Just each other.

Ben O’Mara is a Melbourne based writer and health worker

Human nose can detect far more than one trillion smells, scientists uncover

The human nose can detect far more than 1 trillion different smells, according to new analysis – suggesting we are a lot greater at telling odours apart than we previously imagined.

The study published in the journal Science claims the human olfactory technique can detect many more smells than the longstanding obtained wisdom of 10,000.

“[Our review] replaces that previous quantity of ten,000 with a much far more sensible and [significantly] increased amount and shows the human sense of smell does have a excellent capability to discriminate,” stated lead researcher Dr Andreas Keller of Rockefeller University.

Unlike the auditory method, which can be measured in frequency, the olfactory system is difficult to assess. The truth that most odours are composed of a lot of various chemical compounds causes a lot more difficulties.

Keller’s crew produced odours with varying degrees of similarity and tested if topics could spot the big difference. They utilised a assortment of 128 various chemical substances to concoct three groups of odours containing ten, 20 or 30 distinct components.

For every single group, they developed odours with the same number of elements but a various composition, therefore varying the degree of similarity in between pairs of odours.

3 vials had been then given to every participant – two bearing the identical odour, and one containing a various odour with the very same quantity of components, but a various degree of similarity. They were then asked to inhale and choose which was the odd one out.

Analysing the results from 26 participants, every of whom in contrast in complete 264 pairs of odours with various degrees of similarity, the team found that the higher the degree of overlap in their composition, the tougher it was for participants to tell two odours apart. No 1 could discriminate odours with much more than 90% of overlap, though at least half of the participants could tell odours apart when the degree of overlap was significantly less than 75%.

Personal performance varied tremendously, with the calculated quantity of 30-element mixtures that participants could tell apart various by as significantly as 21 orders of magnitude in between two participants.

“If 1 would make a sturdy statement about that, 1 would have to do various varieties of exams,” stated Keller.

“I think a huge element of that variability is due to the genetic variability in the odourant receptors that bind to the odours.”

From the results, Keller and his group have been capable to operate out the resolution of the olfactory system which they coupled with the complete quantity of attainable odour mixtures to state that people can discriminate more than a trillion distinct odours of 30 elements.

Nevertheless in spite of the enormous magnitude of their figure, Keller believes the consequence is really an underestimate of human olfactory capabilities, pointing out there are far far more odorous molecules than the 128 studied, even though odours might also include a lot more than 30 components, with various concentrations.

“There hasn’t been a previous estimate ahead of of how several different smells the olfactory technique may possibly be capable to choose up and how fine the discrimination may well be in the same way as there has been for other senses so it is a bit of a step forward there,” stated Dr Peter Brennan from the University of Bristol who was not involved in the study.

“I feel it is just emphasising the truth that smells can actually vary in minute approaches and they are very, quite complicated. Our sense of smell is able, if it is important for us, to pick up on these small differences.

“But in the everyday world individuals small distinctions normally are not fascinating and we actually disregard them since we are generalising it to a specific odour that we can place a label on, this kind of as strawberry or banana.”