Why Armagnac smell is one of the most complex of all ‘foodstuffs’?

Complementing the five basic tastes of sweet, bitter, salty, sour and umami, a large variety of odors also contribute to the overall sensory impression of a foodstuff.

Taste is big business, and that means science is on the case.  In recent decades, approximately 10,000 volatile food compounds have been identified. Scientists from Technische Universität München (TUM) and the German Research Center for Food Chemistry (DFA) have carried out a meta-analysis on the odorant patterns of 227 food samples.

They were surprised to find that the almost unlimited variety of food smells is based on 230 key odorants. In addition, each foodstuff has its own odor code comprised of a core group of between just 3 and 40 molecules of the 230 key odorants – in specific concentrations. These small groups of odorous substances are what give all kinds of foodstuffs – from pineapple to wine to roast meat – their unmistakable aromas.

So for example, the smell of cultured butter is encoded by a combination of just 3 key molecules, but fresh strawberries have 12, but cognac, like Armagnac, is one of the most complex of all foodstuff smells, utilizing 36 different key odour molecules.

But what does all this actually mean?  Well, what happens is that the chemical codes of these odours are translated by the olfactory receptors in the nose, of which there are over 400.  And whilst there are currently 230 known key odours, scientists have so far discovered that only 42 of the olfactory receptors respond to food odours.

So what’s the importance of this knowledge?

Well, taste is certainly big business.  And because smell is intertwined with taste, the likelihood of us purchasing a product simply down to its aroma is a major factor.  So you can begin to understand why businesses are spending so much money on research such as this.

It won’t be that long before science and technology have the ability to bring us new methods of advertising.  Imagine being able to smell Cyrano’s latest offering via an app on your smartphone? Now wouldn’t that be something…

Happy smelling …


Source: Technische Universitaet Muenchen