The world’s most popular SMELLS revealed by scientists – plus the worst

EVERYONE’S favorite scent isn’t sweet peaches or the fresh scent of roses – it’s vanilla.

That’s the conclusion of a global study that discovered the ever-popular scent.

Consider baking vanilla cupcakes a safe choice for guests


Consider baking vanilla cupcakes a safe choice for guestsPhoto credit: Unsplash

Scientists have looked around the world to find out if our favorite smells are cultural or simply innate.

And they sniffed out the answer: We are born with it.

“We wanted to investigate whether people around the world have the same olfactory perception and like the same types of smells,” said Artin Ashamian, a neuroscientist at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute.

“Or whether that’s something that’s learned culturally.

“Traditionally it was considered cultural, but we can show that culture has very little to do with it.”

It turns out that people like or dislike the same smells – regardless of their cultural background.

Researchers asked participants to smell 10 unique scents and then rank them based on how good they were.

Fragrances were sniffed by 235 people from 10 different communities.

These included four hunter-gatherer groups, as well as five groups with “various forms of farming and fishing”.

And a final tenth group was taken from New York City.

According to the study, some of the groups had “very little exposure” to Western foods and household items.

Most variances in how pleasant a scent is perceived stem from purely personal preference as well as molecular structure.

The most common scent was vanilla.

In second place was ethyl butyrate, which smells like peach. It is used as a flavor additive.

Third on the list is linalool — which has a floral scent with a “hint of spice.”

“Cultures around the world evaluate different smells in similar ways, no matter where they come from,” said Dr. Ashamnian, whose work was published in the journal Current Biology.

“But smell preferences have a personal — if not cultural — component.”

At the bottom of the list was isovaleric acid.

It has a notoriously unpleasant odor, described as strong, pungent, cheesy, and sweaty.

This was the most universally disliked scent, despite the contestants coming from a range of cultures around the world.

“Personal preferences can be a result of learning, but could also be a result of our genetic makeup,” explained Dr. Arshamian.

The fragrance list

This is how fragrances were ranked worldwide, from most pleasant to least pleasant…

  • 1. vanillin – Vanilla flavor extracted from vanilla beans
  • 2. ethyl butyrate – fruity smell, like pineapple or peach
  • 3. linalool – floral fragrance, with hints of spice
  • 4. eugenol – Spicy, clove-like fragrance
  • 5. 2-phenylethanol – Pleasant floral smell, used for a rose scent
  • 6. 1-octen-3-ol – a mushroom scent that is also found in human breath and sweat
  • 7. octanoic acid – an unpleasant rancid odor and taste found in milk
  • 8th. 3-isobutyl-2-methoxypyrazine – fresh paprika scent
  • 9. dimethyl disulfide – an unpleasant garlic-like smell
  • 10 isovaleric acid – unpleasant odor described as pungent, cheesy and sweaty

“Now we know that there is a universal olfactory perception, governed by molecular structure, that explains why we like or dislike a particular smell,” said Dr. Arshamian.

“The next step is to investigate why that is, by linking this knowledge to what happens in the brain when we perceive a particular smell.”

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