How much of a role does diet play in someone's olfactive abilities? In particular, can it change how people judge 'sweetness'?

slpfrsly

Physician, heal thyself
Basenotes Plus
Apr 1, 2019
I would assume - withoiut recourse to any empirical studies - that a net of interrelated cultural factors weigh in more heavily than individual food regimens. Global companies adjust the taste and smell of foods and cosmetic products to various markets. Guinness is more bitter in Pilsener drinking Germany than in Ireland, etc. pp.

Buuut:

Notably, there's far more research on the impact of loss of or underdeveloped sense of smell on negative dietary habits.
Tbf being diabetic is basically speeding down the slow road to death, so it's not surprising that olfactive abilities decline (along with just about everything else). I'm not surprised by the second study either. Thanks for sharing, it seems pretty obvious to be honest but good to have some supporting academic literature as well.
 

RevW

New member
Feb 19, 2018
Most people will know about the idea that smoking ruins one's sense of taste. With smoking on the decline, this is probably much less of a common grievance or issue than it was even 20 years ago. However, another factor that influences and presumably diminishes sensory perception seems to be largely ignored: diet.

Anyone who has changed their diet - in particular, anyone who refrains from eating highly processed food, or anything with synthetic additives - will know how one's palate can change considerably due to the food we eat. Tolerance for artificial flavourings can quickly ramp up if they're being consumed with any sort of regularity, whereas eating a plainer, more natural diet reveals just how sweet modern fruits can be - let alone how overwhelming the salt and sugar is in processed food. I think most of the users on this site (or at least a large portion) are from the USA, and America is infamous for not only fast and processed food, but also putting high fructose corn syrup in an array of stuff that seemingly doesn't need it for the sake of catering to the USA's sweet tooth. I'm wondering if the skewing of the American (and, consequently, global) palate towards craving/expecting sweetness in food has a knock on impact on perfume? Taste and smell are very much related as senses, so I'm wondering if one's long term dietary habits are going to impact how and what one smells?

I ask this in particular as I'm regularly genuinely dismayed at the differences many people seem to express online when discussing perceptions of 'sweetness' in scents. Sweetness alone probably deserves its own separate topic; it seems to be the bane of modern perfumery and many seem to dislike its ubiquity in contemporary releases. There are also some people who consciously rag on it in a way that seems more than a little bit like posturing (briefly: I think it's because sweet is generally quite feminine/liked by women, and thus it is a posture that rejects cultivating taste with women's opinions in mind, as well as an assertion of masculinity over the more feminine facets that abound in the 'masculine' section of the fragrance market). The omnipresence of amberwood (sweet, but also thick, sticky, slightly resinous, and durable) in so many modern fragrances - ranging from light, citric colognes where it 'extends' the sweet juices, to nominally woody and spicy fragrances where it balances out the piercing qualities of notes like cedar or pink pepper - is something that has been remarked upon for a fairly long time. Without forgetting the growth in gourmands - where woody ambers are often engulfed in viscous accords of honey, sugar, vanilla, cream etc. - it's definitely the case that sweetness is hard to avoid when trying/buying contemporary perfume. As such, there's been a backlash against it: it's only of the many reasons that oakmoss is lauded, and perhaps plays a part in the rise of artisanal oud - where pungent and even faecal smells counter the more pleasant and mass appealing sweet notes found in more mainstream categories. Yet, if you check the wardrobes of some vocal opponents of sweetness in perfume, you'll find numerous sweet scents, and indeed many that are very much in the gloopy, saccharine, and gourmand territory. Now, I do think there's something of the contrarian about some of the protestations against sweetness - a topic which cropped up recently in another post - which would explain the partial or perhaps contradictory presence of gloopy gourmands in the wardrobes of vocally anti-sweet. Yet I also wonder if, aside from the self-conscious postering, there is genuinely a difference in the way some people perceive sweetness in particular. This seems feasible on the basis that, to my nose at least, I think I can identify several different types of sweetness - which I'll have a basic attempt at outlining below:

- Vanilla: In the truest sense, this is going to be the sharp, sweet, bitter, almost piercing smell of vanilla that anyone who's used vanilla extract will recognise.
- Dairy/Cream: This is far more common than the above, and it's basically the texture and smell of vanilla + something creamy/lactonic.
- Resinous: The rich, balsamic, typically 'oriental' smell of amber: mostly appropriate to labdanum, it's darker and heavier, more robust than other forms of sweetness, with a slightly smoky and woody quality.
- Amberwood: I suppose this is the synthetic version of the above category, but woody ambers are so common they deserve their own little section. "Woody and ambery", I suppose, describes them well enough.
- Sugar: The kind of artificial and vague 'sweetness' that isn't like vanilla and also lacks the texture of most 'vanilla'-esque accords (i.e. not creamy, just sweet - can be applied to citrus notes, as well as literal sweets/candies).
- Honey & Caramel: Accurate gourmand notes that imitate the texture and feel (heavy, sticky) of natural honey, or food like toffee, caramel etc.

Now, sweetness seems to be obvious thing to focus on when considering the role of diet given how changes in perception are relevant dietary habits. Yet it also seems fair to think that diet is probably affecting a person's sensory perceptions in a more comprehensive manner. It's possible that it's more pronounced in matters of what one considers sweet (and, by extension, too sweet, not sweet enough, or the Goldilocks 'just right'), but I assume - if this is the case - then it will also impact how well one is able to detect or appreciate other notes as well: like woods, or spices, or...who knows. It seems credible that what we eat impacts how we perceive everything: every smell, every aromachemical, every accord.

Without doing any wider reading about this, I'm wondering if anyone knows anything about this? Or, failing that, does anyone have any personal experience of this subject, or any thoughts?

It goes without saying that there are other factors at play here. There's going to be a natural difference in how people rate, review, test, evaluate, and express themselves when it comes to discussing and analysing fragrance. Often, I think that many disagreements online are more about a failure in communication than vastly different opinions on the fragrance(s). I also think differing opinions often come fron the different ways of smelling a fragrance - like the differences on skin and paper, for instance. Of course, this then leads to the next point: if skin chemistry is relevant, then surely this leads us back to diet as being a relevant factor - not just at the point of perception (i.e. your own personal sense of smell), but also in the way the fragrance literally reacts to one's skin. In short, diet could be playing a sort of double whammy on fragrance - there's the way it changes how it wears on your skin, which will be perceptible to other people (in theory), and then there's the way it changes your personal olfactive abilities.

As for my own attitude to this, I barely eat any processed food and relied on having a good palate when I worked in catering. It's definitely something that helped me make a fairly swift transition from knowing very little about fragrances to being able to assess them fairly well in a short space of time. In terms of something like sweetness, my attitude has probably changed somewhat over time. Pre-fragcomm I wore and enjoyed several sweet fragrances - noticably 1 Million and Joop - but over time I would say, in trying to find something 'better', I have come to bemoan the ubiquity of sweet facets in masculine fragrances. My sadness at the absence of real sandalwood is never more acute than 5 hours or so in to a fragrance I thought was great (Aventus, Beau de Jour in particular), only to feel worn out by the sheer weight and sticky feeling of a sweet base. But that's by the by...

I suppose I've ended up writing about several things here but to sum up:

- Do you know or do you think that the food you eat impacts your sense of smell and perception of perfume? How/in what ways have you noticed?
- Do you think that the desire for sweet fragrances is, in part, linked to the increase in the general sweetness of modern diets? And do you think there is a relationship between diet and fragrance, and what some people consider as 'sweet'?
 

RevW

New member
Feb 19, 2018
I haven't read ALL of this thread - but in case it hasn't been mentioned. ... Distaste or preference for some consumables + their odors shifts in tandem, when there are hormonal changes such as puberty, pregnancy or menopause. This does suggest that dietary modifications that change perception of taste along with sensitivity to body odors especially those that are sulfuric like garlic, will modify scent perception / preference if for no other reason than that taste & scent are neurologically linked. What is consumed continually modifies each person's personal body biome; a major change should produce more noticeable changes in all of it that can be directly experienced.
 

imm0rtelle

Basenotes Junkie
Apr 2, 2021
I love sweets, but what I'm currently casting for is an airy bitter fresh fragrance for my aloof category in my wardrobe. I'm looking forward to sampling Eau de Gentiane Blanche, for example.
 

ellebe

New member
Feb 9, 2019
Not sure about sugar/sweets, but I know someone who eats tremendous amounts of garlic and it definitely exudes from their pores. I like garlic, but when you secretly hold your breath riding in an elevator with someone, that's pretty bad...
 
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Varanis Ridari

The Scented Devil
Basenotes Plus
Oct 17, 2012
I think tolerance of sweetness from eating lots of sugary things can maybe effect perception of sweetness, but I'm not sure of how much that extends to smell, since taste and smell are separate even if smell greatly assists taste.

Probably a similar thing for spice and capcasin. You eat a lot of things containing that, and you build a tolerance to it, which makes a hot sauce someone else finds abominable appear to be too mild for your tastebuds. Again not sure how much this tolerance affects smelling spice though.

As for smoking, that's more or less general anosmia caused by your brain constantly being forced to filter out the accumulated smell of your own habit, since tar and nicotine is all over you inside and out.

As a former smoker, I can vouch for this. I wore much more perfume 20 years ago and smelled much less of it because I smoked. Now I wear a quarter as many sprays then smell it twice as strong. Go figure.

I'm not going to dig too deeply into how specific diets of processed or natural foods effects one's senses because I'm not a physiologist, and I don't want to steer someone wrong vis à vis telling them to go Keto in order to perceive rose more clearly. 🤣
 

Castingshadows

Basenotes Dependent
Apr 14, 2020
I was a vegetarian for 8 years and when I switched to a mostly red meat and fruit with raw dairy diet my skin chemistry changed in a noticeable manner. Enough for certain fragrances to smell quite different.

For example I can’t really smell dried fruit accords on my skin anymore. Smoke notes don’t show up either. But when I spray my clothing I can smell both smoke and fruits. It’s really strange.

My skin seems to amp up spices and incense while dampening brighter top notes. I mostly get strong mid/base notes now and they show up way quicker than before. On clothing though nothing really changed from what I smelled before.

So my diet changed my skin’s acidity. I think because I’m not drinking as much coffee, very little to no processed sugar, no bread/yeast, and definitely no alcohol I can safely say for myself things have changed drastically.


I should also note that I’m not phobic to sweet notes. I don’t mind sweetness at all as dried Medjool Dates are my absolute favorite treat along with overripe yellow mangos. I love Sugary fruits and didn’t notice ANY change in how I perceived sweetness. Then again I never minded sweetness especially when that sweetness comes from natural vanilla or other ambery matériels like benzoin, tonka, Peru balsam, labdanum etc. I’ve never enjoyed ethyl maltol and purposefully Cotten candy sweet fragrances but my tolerance for gourmands with an emphasis on darker umami/savory sweets don’t bother me.

For example Rosendo’s N. 7 is terribly sweet in a way I don’t like and I hate it. Same with Akro Dark and Akro Malt. Even By the Fireplace fits into this category of downright disgust.

Tobacco Vanille on the other hand I don’t mind. Jeke 2022 is just too syrupy sweet for my tastes. So it really varies.

None of the sweetness changed by cutting out processed sugars in my diet.
 

strangelight

Basenotes Member
Jun 9, 2022
I've actually had the same thought OP, and wondered if the rise in gourmands has any relation to the obesity crisis - as in, as people eat more sugary foods, the threshold for what is considered "sweet" increases. Whether there's any direct crossover, the mechanism for desiring increasingly sweet things is the same in my view - as you said, tolerance builds up and you need sweeter and sweeter to hit the same spot.
For what it's worth in terms of my personal experiences, I detest the sweetness of modern designer gourmands and fruitchoilis and find them nauseating, and often find scents outside those types too sweet - but seem to have a much higher tolerance for sweetness when combined with a rich, resinous amber base. This matches my taste in foods pretty well as I'm very picky about sweetness and very rarely eat say, chocolate bars, not for health reasons but just because I do not enjoy them. But somehow I really love some incredibly rich sweet deserts like sticky toffee pudding with cream. It seems in my tastes, the sweetness has to be at least matched by the richness - or perhaps some other amped up qualities such as spiciness and saltiness. I think this may be the case for people who inveigh against sweet scents yet have something as incredibly sweet as say, Tobacco Vanille as a favourite. They may enjoy sweetness, but need a countering element to match it.
As an aside, for the association with women's perfumes, I especially hate (as a woman) how such smells are seen as feminine to the point that the boundaries for masculine/feminine seems to have shifted so that for many younger women, anything not containing 10% ethyl maltol is considered too masculine. The fact that many are apparently surprised at how "masculine" Shalimar smells says it all, in my view.
 
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