From fruity to minty to popcorn-y, all smells can be classified as one of 10 types of aroma, scientists say.
Taste, vision and hearing can be quantified, but a systematic description of smell has remained elusive. Now, researchers have used mathematics to describe odors systematically and simplify them into 10 categories: fragrant, woody/resinous, fruity (non-citrus), chemical, minty/peppermint, sweet, popcorn, lemon, pungent and decayed.
"It's an open question how many fundamental types of odor qualities there are," study researcher Jason Castro of Bates College said in a statement. "This is in striking contrast to olfaction's 'sister sense,' taste, where we know that five basic qualities seem to organize sensations," Castro said. (8 Strange Things Scientists Have Tasted)
Castro and his colleagues took a standard database known as Andew Dravniek's 1985 Atlas of Odor Character Profiles. The profiles contained long lists of descriptors -- such as "sweet," "floral" or "heavy" -- which people had rated in terms of applicability to 144 different odors.