The scent of lily of the valley cannot be easily bottled. For decades companies that make soap, lotions and perfumes have relied on a chemical called bourgeonal to imbue their products with the sweet smell of the little white flowers. A tiny drop can be extraordinarily intense.
If you can smell it at all, that is. For a small percentage of people, it fails to register as anything.
Similarly, the earthy compound 2-ethylfenchol, present in beets, is so powerful for some people that a small chunk of the root vegetable smells like a heap of dirt. For others, that same compound is as undetectable as the scent of bottled water.
Of course, genes are not the only determinant of scent. Rachel Herz, who studies the psychological science of smell at Brown University, calls this new study “great and important” but points out that there are many other factors at play, including attention, past associations and expectations.
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