Vanilla: Odor Hedonics & its Ubiquitous Appeal

Journal Article
Author(s): Charles Spence
Year: April 27, 2022

Our food choices and consumption behaviours are often influenced by odour hedonics, especially in the case of those orthonasally experienced aromas (that is, those odours that are food-related). The origins of odour hedonics remain one of the most intriguing puzzles in olfactory science and, over the years, several fundamentally different accounts have been put forwards to try and explain the varying hedonic responses that people have to a wide range of odorants. Associative learning, innate and molecular accounts of odour pleasantness have all been suggested. Here the origins of the hedonic response to vanilla, which is one of the most liked smells cross-culturally, are explored. The history of vanilla’s use in food and medicine is outlined, with a focus on its neurocognitive appeal. While vanilla is one of the most widely liked aromas, it is also rated as smelling sweet to most people. Food scientists are becoming increasingly interested in the possibility that such ‘sweet smells’ could be used to help maintain the sweetness of commercial food products while, at the same time, reducing the use of calorific sweeteners. Such an approach is likely to be facilitated by the low cost of artificial vanilla flavouring (when compared with the high and fluctuating price of natural vanilla pods).