The World’s Favorite Scent Is Vanilla
The sweet and nutty scent of vanillin, the main component in vanilla extract, appears to be the world's favorite scent, according to a new study published this week in Current Biology.
Researchers suggest there may be an evolutionary basis for the The team wanted to determine whether smell perception was consistent worldwide or if people culturally learned their scent preferences. For the investigation, scientists asked 225 individuals from ten distinct cultural groups, including city dwellers, indigenous hunter-gatherers, and people from traditional rural farming and fishing communities.
Study participants were pooled from urban areas in the United States, Mexico and Thailand and fishing communities from Central America's Pacific coast, were also involved in the research.
Participants were asked to sniff vials containing ten scents, presented in random order. Then, they were asked to rank each vial from most pleasant to least pleasant. Scent vials were transported to isolated regions by field scientists so that the team could get data from those with little to no prior exposure to Western smells.
The team found the smell ranked the most pleasant was vanillin, the main component in vanilla extract. The following preferred scent was ethyl butyrate, a fruity, pineapple-like odor. The chemical compound Linalool's floral and spicy scent—found in over 200 plants including lavender—ranked third.
The least popular scent was isovaleric acid, a compound with a penetrating, pungent odor common in cheese, soy milk, and sweaty feets. Trends for rating the scents in this order were consistent in all tested locations.
When analyzing the data, scientists found that the influence of cultural background only plays a small part in odor preference. Culture was linked to six percent of the variance, while eachscents' molecular influenced 40 percent of the selections. While individuals may rank smells in slightly different orders, the variation is based on personal preferences, not culture. Personal preference accounted for 54 percent of people's choices. Overall, there are similarities across cultures regarding what smells a person likes or dislikes.
These cross-cultural preferences for certain scents could have roots in human evolution, which would require additional research to determine. It's possible knowledge of some scents increased chances of survival at some point in history, a statement explains.