Odor diffusion in the creation of cooking smellscapes with a temporal dimension

Fresh methi (fenugreek) and curry leaves inspired a meal  potatoes with fried curry leaves, methi potatoes, and ‘beef’ vindaloo. I started with the methi, a warm earthy and jungle-like scent. That combined with cumin and mustard seed, haldi, and chili powder. By the time I had started frying the curry leaves with other seeds onion, the methi scent had diffused to the dining room. When I finally had the vindoloo paste ready to fry with onions, the living room smelled like methi, the dining room like curry leaves, and the kitchen mostly like vindaloo with a general background Indian restaurant smell. By starting in the kitchen, you could work your way back in time to the living room and be reminded of how amazing the curry leaves first smelt when tossed into the pan to fry on medium heat. Sadly, the rum custard tarts I made later didn’t knock a dent the heady smellscape.

Contemplating my evening smellscape reminded me why the earliest and recent attempts at olfactory cinema experiences are so difficult to manage. Odor diffuses slowly and has to be released well in advance of the visual olfactory cue in the movie (e.g., when you see the character biting an orange, you should be able to smell the orange around that time). Additional problems are how to diffuse the odor (one source, multiple sources), how will odors diffuse from the source(s) relative to size of space and specs of ventilation, and how to get rid of one set of odors to make way for the next. These challenge have yet to be overcome. There has to be something to that history of layered odors that could be exploited–maybe in a play or a film that was set in a short time frame or one room where the gradual diffusion and mingling of odors was normal and the natural human sense desensitizing could be exploited.


Published by Kara C. Hoover

I am a bioanthropologist living in Alaska studying human olfactory variation and prehistoric human health and diet.

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