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Smelling a vanilla pod
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The results are in: this is the world’s most popular smell

Scientists reckon they’ve figured out the world’s favourite – and least favourite – odours

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

Everyone’s got a favourite smell. You know the classics: freshly cut grass, new books, smoky fireplaces. But which smell is absolutely, undeniably the best? Well, some scientists reckon they’ve come up with an answer.  

To find out, scientists from the University of Oxford and Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute got 235 people from around the world to sniff ten different smells. Those sniffers ranged from city-dwellers in the USA, Mexico and Thailand to fishing communities in central America and farmers in the Andes.

The idea was to test all kinds of people, but especially those who haven’t necessarily been subjected to Western conventions of smell. The odours were chosen to be representative of stuff that is found all over the world, from sweaty feet to ripe fruits, and the results were published in the journal Current Biology

And the most popular smell was… vanilla! That’s right. Turns out that the safe, reliable choice is safe and reliable for good reason.

Second came a fruity odour which smells like peaches because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like the smell of peaches? And third came a lavender-like scent. As a top three, those are pretty unbeatable.

Ranking last in the smell table was a chemical with a smell resembling sweaty feet, followed by odours similar to the likes of decaying fish and smelly cheese. Good to know that what’s gross for one is gross for all, eh?

Interestingly, the study concluded that reactions to smells are ‘largely independent of cultural factors’, meaning that many good and bad smells are universally agreed upon. Of course, there are plenty of smells which certain cultures grow more familiar with, and are therefore much more likely to enjoy.

Fancy reading the entire study? Well, you can do so here.

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