Hot, intense smells more easy to detect in winter months, researcher says

As the seasons change and we edge closer to winter, is it possible that our sense of smell becomes heightened? Each day we smell hundreds of different scents, from freshly brewed coffee to the tuna in your workmate’s salad at the desk next to you. Dr Heather Smyth, a flavour and sensory scientist and research fellow from the University of Queensland, said temperature and memories worked hand in hand when it came to smell. “It’s not the air that carries more smell when it’s cold,” she said. “When it’s hot, the smells in the food around us have more energy and the molecules are more excited, meaning the flavour compounds tend to be in the air more readily. “For example, if you’re in an area where there’s rotting things and it’s hot, the smell is really, really strong. “If it’s cold, the smell is much less intense.” But we are attuned to smell more in winter, particularly when it comes to food, because strong scents become more obvious to detect. “In winter, when something has been cooked, it’s hot and the smell compounds are in the air because the heat is generating them,” Dr Smyth told ABC Radio Brisbane’s Craig Zonca. “In the cooler weather the bins and the grounds are also not as nearly as smelly so you notice other hot intense smells easily.” The part of the brain that controls aroma or olfaction (sense of smell) also looks after long-term memories, behaviour and emotions. Dr Smyth said often the food people craved or desired in the cooler months had a strong emotional connection. “If you’re feeling a certain way it’s quite likely that there’s certain smells that your body or brain is seeking out and looking for,” she said. “There are long-term memories that are associated with comfort foods that our mother may have made for us when things are cool or dark. “It’s food that we think picks us up and makes us feel better so we detect those smells more.” She said the mental association with cooler weather and cravings due to a memory could force us “to want hot chips or warm casseroles in winter”. In Queensland, above-average temperatures throughout summer have meant that recent cooler weather has made it more noticeable to smell new and different scents. “It’s been such a dramatic change so you can notice new smells,” Dr Smyth said. “In really cold weather, when it’s zero or below, our energy needs increase and our brain tells us to eat more to survive. “We sometimes seek that food that we smell because of our need for energy.”

ABC Health News, 10 April 2017 ; ;