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Creating a standard spectrum of smell

SAN FRANCISCO -- Distinguishing the difference between the aroma of pepperoni pizza and boiling cabbage is not as simple as it seems for everyone. Some people have a heightened sense of smell and can be overwhelmed by aromas. And some suffer from smell blindness, a condition appropriately called "anosmia," that could make the cabbage smell like a four-star restaurant.

But, who is who? In the commercial world, how do you distinguish between those with perfect sniff pitch and those with none? Cornell University food chemists are finding out by standardizing the spectrum of smell.

Jane Friedrich, Cornell doctoral candidate in food chemistry, is developing sniff standards in the laboratory of Terry Acree, a Cornell professor of food science, at the university's New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, N.Y. "Let's say you smell an essence oil like jasmine, which is a pure smell. Your ability to smell that jasmine is based on a small combination of olfactory receptor proteins. Those proteins produce a pattern your brain would recognize," she says. But even for finite aromas like jasmine, people smell it in different ways.

Friedrich presented her research into smells, "Selecting Standards for Gas Chromatography Olfactometry," at the American Chemical Society national meeting today (March 26) at the Moscone Center, San Francisco.

One reason for the large variation associated with olfactory acuity is due to a phenomenon called "specific anosmia," said Friedrich. Simply, this is smell blindness, or insensitivity to the odor of a chemical or group of chemicals in people with otherwise normal olfactory sensitivity. Specific anosmia poses a challenge to researchers because it can distort data in sensory research labs.

Friedrich noted a classic example of this sensory-test problem from a study performed at the Western Regional Research Laboratory in Albany, Calif., more than 30 years ago. Test subjects sn
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Contact: Blaine P. Friedlander Jr.
bpf2@cornell.edu
607-255-3290
Cornell University News Service
25-Mar-2000


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