Olfaction differences between the sexes

Can women detect smells better than men? The short answer is yes, but only for specific types of odorants, according researchers who reviewed most of the studies on the topic.* The compounds that women seem to detect better than men include some surprises: acetone (nail polish … [Read more...]


A man sitting next to me on the train pulled out a newspaper. Not a smartphone with an app or an e-reader, but actual folds of paper printed with black and colored ink. It was fresh off the press. In such close quarters, not even my lemon lozenge and scarf could block out the aromas entirely. So I … [Read more...]

Fallen leaves

I was walking along a sidewalk when I came across a deep pile of fallen leaves. It was deep enough that my shoes were swallowed completely. I bent down and scooped up a handful of earth-toned leaves. Maple or Oak, I'm not sure which, or maybe both. I breathed in deep. This scene burst to mind: hay … [Read more...]

Smelling the past

I cracked open an ancient text, my high school yearbook. The pages appear in black and white, except for the color senior photos, which I was that year. Smiling teens with big hair later scribbled messages bidding me to "have fun" and "good luck".  A long-forgotten aroma of art class escaped the … [Read more...]

What does the moon smell like?

I've never smelled moondust, and I was intrigued by this question posted at Nasa.gov: What does the moon smell like? Gunpowder, according to Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan. The closest I've come to smelling moondust was on a recent visit to meteor research lab at the University of California … [Read more...]

Stew season

With cooler weather upon us, it's the perfect time of year to break out the enameled cast iron pot and make some stew. So tonight I did just that and made a stew of lamb with fennel, root veggies and the oniony figs from last week. My kitchen smells as cozy as a campfire. Turns out I'm not the … [Read more...]

What the fig?

A neighbor invited me to a potluck dinner. I arrive, armed with a veggie stir fry and curious what my new neighbors like to eat. The hostess explains that most of the produce at this evening's fete comes from a nearby organic farm. I glance down the long folding table: plates of styled fruits and … [Read more...]

Sniffing a friend’s new house

If only the walls could talk. A friend recently bought a new house. She invites me over to sniff around, check the place out and make sure the clean up crew did a proper job. I reluctantly agree to dispatch the Scentinelle to the scene; not everyone really wants to know. My first stop is the … [Read more...]

Flowering yellow ginger

Yellow ginger grows wild in Hawaii; the equivalent of wild daisies on the Mainland. The delicate yellow flowers last only a week or so and billow an exotic scent. I smell this unmistakable aroma coming from my yard here in San Diego, an ocean away from where I expect to find it. I locate the plants … [Read more...]

Decaf coffee surprise

Riddle: What do decaf coffee and skunk musk have in common? Answer: High concentrations of mercaptans Shuffling through a major health food store, I turn down the coffee aisle and pass the open bins of beans. I always swing through for the nose candy before I hit the check out. But this time I … [Read more...]