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This is "the Most Pleasant Smell in the World," According to New Science

This scent has most crossover appeal.

Who's boring now? Scientists have determined what may be the most pleasant scent in the world, almost equally savored by people across all cultures.

Those are the findings of a group of Swedish researchers who recently published a study in the journal Current Biology. Their objective was to see if culture determines what scents people find attractive or odious. 

In their experiment, the scientists asked 280 people from very different walks of life—ranging from a hunter-gatherer from Southeast Asia to urbane New Yorkers—to smell 10 scents, then rank them from most to least pleasant. 

"Since these groups live in such disparate odiferous environments, like a rainforest, coast, mountain and city, we capture many different types of 'odor experiences. We wanted to examine if people around the world have the same smell perception and like the same types of odor, or whether this is something that is culturally learned," said study author Artin Arshamian, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. 

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And the most pleasant smell is…

What they found: There was very little correlation between a person's culture and scent preference, and the scent of vanilla had the most crossover appeal. Ethyl butyrate—a chemical that has a fruity odor and is used to enhance flavor in orange juice—was also favored. The least popular smell: isovaleric acid, a scent associated with cheese, soy milk, apple juice, sweaty feet. "Traditionally [smell perception] has been seen as cultural, but we can show that culture has very little to do with it," said Arshamian.

The researchers theorize that there may be evolutionary reasons why humans prefer certain scents over others, although that has yet to be determined. It may be that the human brain evolved to process certain scents as edible or inedible, even dangerous, and our noggins have now been hardwired that way. "Now we know that there's universal odor perception that is driven by molecular structure and that explains why we like or dislike a certain smell," said Arshamian. "The next step is to study why this is so by linking this knowledge to what happens in the brain when we smell a particular odor."

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In the meantime, being called vanilla may not be the ego-withering insult it used to be. "If you were to look at the highest rated men's fragrances most of them would have vanilla and/or bergamot as an ingredient," noted one Redditor on a discussion thread about the study.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a seasoned writer and editor with a passion for helping people make life-improving decisions. Read more
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