The world of smell is available to the majority of us. But our recognition of it, our decision to incorporate that identification into our daily living falls short of its true capacity. As with many of our other senses, we tend to insulate ourselves from their fullest experiences. And sometimes with good reason.
Who hasn’t been to a concert where the music was deafening—to the point you simply wanted to leave and miss a potentially great performance?
On the flipside, can you catalogue the sounds around you right now and say you knew they each existed before you stopped to count them? The hum of the fridge? The birdsong outside? The click of your mouse? The traffic in the street? Your wife announcing she’s leaving you because you won’t leave the whisky blogs alone?
What about touch? Do you think about the steering wheel beneath your fingers? The rough calloused hands of the man you just shook hands with? What’s the texture of your daughter’s hair?
We could go on with sight and taste, but let’s skip to the smelling.
How aware are you of the scents in the room right now? Do you take the time to smell your food before you put it into your gob? Think about the scent of a crushed raspberry. Floor polish. Damp leaves. Oil encrusted sardines. Sharp pine sap. Crusty warm bread.
Do they snap front and center, easily recognizable? Could you identify them if your eyes were closed and the scent placed beneath you?
Memorization is key. As a human race, we tend to lean on multiple senses to quickly identify and process for maximum efficiency. But training your nose isn’t about slick organization. This is an exercise meant for discovery, pleasure, and eventually, purpose.
Most folks figure out fairly early on that smell is related to memory and emotion. The whiff of a woman’s perfume as you pass her in the hallway immediately transports you to a stage of infancy you see through the fuzzy optics of time: your mother leaning over you in your childhood bed to kiss your forehead after she returns from dining out with your father. Security, safety, love. Have you ever driven past an industrial brewery and perhaps your mind is thrown back to your grandmother’s kitchen where you constantly snuck in to peek beneath the cotton cloth that covered the rising dough? Anticipation, warmth, glee.
The science is ongoing, and far from complete. But that which we know shows an immense complexity, a puzzle waiting to be unraveled.
Nosing kits are becoming quite popular among individuals who are interested in training their olfactory system. You can order aroma kits for whisky, wine and perfumes, where you’ll receive a collection of small bottles containing the scents you will want to memorize. Aromas that represent cut grass, roses, smoke, sherry, woodiness, citrus, nuts and spices are some of the concentrations included in the kit. Some will be familiar immediately and identified easily. Others will need coaching, repeated and regular reminders.
I love to incorporate the party game where I bring out my nosing kits and encourage folks to test their memory and recognition for scent. It’s a total hoot for everyone, and me especially, when I hand them a vile of something you definitely don’t want to detect in the things you ingest. The lovely bouquet of decay is picture worthy, every time.
I leave you with this quote from Immanuel Kant:
All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.
And there’s a very good reason for training your nose.
Someday, someone is going to have to replace Richard Paterson.