Fresh, intense and slightly earthy. The moment the first raindrops touch the ground in summer, the warm air gives off this unique, distinctive perfume: the petrichor. Petrichor is produced when water falls on parched earth and the microorganisms in the soil and the essential oils of plants react with this rain water.
The smell of summer rains – a scent which to many of us is the smell of warm weather, a smell that immediately uplifts the spirits and oftentimes even transports us back to our childhood days. This example shows how powerful scents can be. We wonder what's it all about and take a step into the world of this fascinating faculty, where we discover some of its rather unexpected talents.
Our sense of smell is located in biologically the most ancient part of the brain and is also perhaps the most underrated of our five senses. According to a 2014 study by researchers at the Rockefeller University, the nose can perceive more stimuli than the eyes and ears together. Scientists in New York have demonstrated that human beings can distinguish not just 10,000 (as was previously believed) smells but an incredible one billion. We spoke to an expert on smells and olfaction: Johannes Frasnelli, Professor in the Department of Anatomy at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres and author of "We smell better than we think", sums up the power of this impressive faculty: "Scents and smells create flashbacks, they take us back in time – to our childhood or adolescence – and one relives everything anew." The moment we associate a smell with a particular situation, it remains locked in our memory and triggers the same emotions time and again. We wonder what brings about this phenomenon. Prof. Frasnelli explains: "Olfactory impulses are processed in the same area of the brain as emotions. They are stored together in what is called the limbic system and stowed away as memories." For this reason, certain smells are often linked with specific memories because they elicit an emotion lingering in our subconscious mind. An interesting fact is that the olfactory sense or the sense of smell is actually the only one of our faculties linked in the brain this way. Other faculties, such as sight and hearing, take up exclusive areas of the brain.
Our subconscious mind plays a crucial role in the perception of smells. When we enter a room, we immediately perceive an intense perfume for instance. But what happens when we remain in this room for a few minutes? The perfume doesn’t seem as intense as in the beginning, though it also doesn’t simply disappear. “We consciously perceive smells only when they are either extremely concentrated or unexpected”, says Prof. Frasnelli.
However, the initial surprise, the consciousness or awareness of the smell soon evaporates. Although the perception of smell in this case bypasses our subconscious, it can continue to trigger reactions, emotions and feelings in us later on. “Sometimes we may simply feel cheerful or ill at ease for no apparent reason, we may perhaps not even notice that something has changed in our sense of wellbeing – the trigger could very well be the smells around us.”
The fragrance of flowers, of freshly mowed grass or the salty ocean – in each one of us, these pleasant smells can evoke feelings of cosy comfort, joy and security. This effect is made use of in fragrance and perfume marketing as well: for instance, columns of perfume samples are often set up in shopping centres or malls, fragrances are attached to air conditioning units, or a particular product is sprayed with synthetic fragrances. Meanwhile, manufacturers have become specialised in creating complete fragrance concepts for companies. Larger chains especially have a "corporate smell" these days – a characteristic smell that creates an atmosphere of wellbeing.It can, however, be said in general that although scents and smells have an influence over mood and emotions, they do not necessarily lead us into subconscious buying.
The powerful effect of our sense of smell manifests itself in our sense of taste as well: the smell of an aromatic, familiar dish whets our appetite, stimulates our senses and belly. This, in fact, forms the major part of the pleasurable gustatory experience, as the aromas released while chewing and tasting end up in the nose. Heike Lohbeck, tea expert at Avoury, explains why teas are deliberately infused with aromas and how significant they are for overall enjoyment. "Each of our Avoury teas contains distinct ingredients which are combined in such a way that the taste and the aroma complement each other perfectly."
Fruity-sweet is what our CREAMY STRAWBERRY smells like. Tiny pieces of strawberry in tea that smell so intense, as though they were freshly picked. And the creamy nuances remind us of our favourite strawberry-cream bonbons we so loved as children. The intense bouquet of FLOWERY RHUBARB with its floral notes of hibiscus blossoms set against sweet-smelling pieces of apple makes for a potent dose of refreshment in a glass. An aromatic tea that is already a sensory delight before it is savoured by the tongue. Our sense of smell is definitely not something to look down our noses at. Now that we have had a glance at the exciting world of our olfactory senses, we will perhaps appreciate the smells during the next summer rain even more.Discover CREAMY STRAWBERRY