The chirality of smell

As I prepare the first half of my Science of Smell online class, I am having fun looking for various examples of all things biomolecular, biochemical, and genetic related to olfaction. If I were a taste and flavour chemist or a molecular gastronomist, I’d probably be interested in somehow exploiting the chirality of biomolecules in foodContinue reading “The chirality of smell”


Black diamonds

The genome for the Périgord truffle was published in 2010. Considering that these special truffles go for 1000-2000 ($1300-2700) an ounce, the genome has been under-exploited by culinary scientists and molecular gastronomists…until recently when specialists in bioinformatics and proteomics got together to mine the secrets of Brillat-Savarin‘s “diamond of the kitchen”. The resulting paper, released today in the JournalContinue reading “Black diamonds”

Smell of the week: Clove

In a continuing series on the spices of mince pies, cloves (Syzygium aromaticum) pick up where we left off last week with the genus Myrtaceae, from which we get our nutmeg and mace. Cloves are also native to Indonesia (the Maluku islands to be specific. Clove oil can come from the leaves, the stem, or buds. This resultsContinue reading “Smell of the week: Clove”

Smell of the week: Nutmeg

In a continuing short series on mince pies, today’s spice is nutmeg. Nutmeg and its aromatically ‘lighter’ sister mace both come from trees in the genus Myristica. On the left is nutmeg in fresh form: the seed is nutmeg and the aril is mace. Myristica fragrans, the most common source, is an Indonesian flowering evergreens thatContinue reading “Smell of the week: Nutmeg”

Smell of the Week: Cinnamon

Now that I have a ticket out of Alaska with an upcoming mid-December departure, I am thinking about holiday baking. In particular, I am thinking about my favorite holiday goodie–mince pies. So, the next few posts will feature the spices that I use in making those little pies of perfection. Today is cinnamon, not aContinue reading “Smell of the Week: Cinnamon”

Smell of the week: peppermint (Mentha piperita)

With cold winter days and waning daylight, I love flavouring my soy latte with peppermint from time to time or having a hot chocolate laced with mint schnapps by the evening fire. This is an odd choice in the winter since the menthol in peppermint provokes a ‘cool’ feeling via cold-sensitive receptors in the skinContinue reading “Smell of the week: peppermint (Mentha piperita)”

Smell of the week: Coffee

I infrequently drink more than one cup of coffee a day (and always black)–usually because my enjoyment increasingly diminishes to the point that I don’t finish my cup. I have always perceived my coffee to be primarily an olfactory experience with secondary pleasures directed towards either the warmth or the flavour complement to some other food.  And,Continue reading “Smell of the week: Coffee”

Smell of the week: camphor

Why camphor? Mainly, I fondly remember camphor as the comedic lynchpin in Red Dwarf Series 3 Episode 2 (“Marooned”) wherein Lister and Rimmer have crash-landed on a planet and await rescue. To keep Lister warm, they burn as many things as they can. When they are left with a few prized possession, Lister tricks RimmerContinue reading “Smell of the week: camphor”

Smell of the week: Fire

A favorite olfactory pleasure is the smell of burning wood  (even if the guilt from wood particulate pollution diminishes it a bit). I had the first fire of the season in my cabin last night as pictured to the right (I do my best–the wood was dry and seasoned). Not coincidentally, Starvation Gulch takes place atContinue reading “Smell of the week: Fire”

Smell of the week: Garlic

One of my favorite appetite stimulators is the scent of cooking garlic in EVOO (which I blogged about previously). The putative ancestor of modern garlic plants originated in Asia. The commonly used ones today, Allium sativum and Allium ophioscorodon, are widespread in cultivation. Much of the headspace of garlic volatiles consists of sulfurs. Allicin is a key chemical compoundContinue reading “Smell of the week: Garlic”