Saturday, 14 July 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name...

Well far be it from me to say that Shakepeare, through Juliet in this case, was wrong, but it wouldn't 'smell as sweet' because apparently you can't smell sweetness. It would, of course, still smell like a rose, so as an analogy it's perfectly correct, and I'm definitely not about to advocate the re-writing of Romeo and Juliet for the purposes of a bit of discussion on taste.

When I was sitting the tutored tastings for the wine diploma there was some discussion about the notion of whether or not you can smell 'sweet'. This had nothing to do with the shower facilities at the local hotels, as it turns out it's about associations. When we think something smells sweet, it's because we're associating that particular smell with something that tastes sweet. In wine tasting metaphors are of vital importance, and to a slightly lesser extent the same applies in beer tasting - and that only slightly lessened because of what you can add to beer. Thus, a Sangiovese can smell like cherries, as a beer that has never been anywhere near a grapefruit can taste like grapefruit.

Some good, some bad? Or just... different?
With a nod to Boak & Bailey and their referencing longer articles for further reading here's one on the confusion of taste and smell. It talks about how the palate can be distracted by the nose, and vice-versa, even if in the experiments they talk about rating how sweet things smell, which further confused me since as I understand it the first real detection of sweetness occurs on the tongue - we're back to the metaphorical again I think.

All of which leads me on on to this video. I don't think it's particularly revelatory to say It's the most interesting video on the subject of spaghetti sauce I've ever watched, and if you can spare quarter of an hour or so to watch it it might well influence you next time you get into a discussion about whether or not a beer is 'good.' If it's not enough to realise that our bodies are far from perfect at tasting things, then is it further damning to think that maybe we don't even know what we like? I'm off for a coffee; dark and rich, naturally.

Video stumbled across because of a re-tweet by Juel Mahoney.


  1. The obvious 'sweet' smell that came to our mind when we read this was vanilla. It's so associated with sweetness that there's vanilla (or at least aroma/essence) in all sorts of cakes and sweets. I suspect you could convince people a beer was sweeter than it is by adding vanilla essence.

    But... what could you do to enhance the perception of dryness or bitterness? How does bitterness *smell*?

    1. I started thinking about this while eating a fudge brownie, as you do. It had a decidedly boozy quality but no alcohol in the ingredients. High alcohol can give a sense of sweetness - I wonder if there's a correlation?

      As to bitterness, I suppose it's not the same as the 'sweetness suppressors' in the article. Interesting question!