SCENTED LIFE - SCENTS
In the context of human life and the importance that smells have to our evolution, I have designed four fragrances that gathered four pivotal olfactory moments from our past, each holding profound significance for our vital state and celebrating our body odour.
1. HUMAN ANCESTORS (Sulfuric ocean)
The first fragrance is sulfuric and oceanic. Sulphur, reminiscent of the scent of rotten eggs, is a primordial element of interstellar space and an outcome of our planet’s geology. Although harmful to humans when inhaled or ingested, is present today, in small amounts, in the food we eat and within our bodies. The smell of sulfur, notably in the sea, is attributed to Dimethyl sulphide (DMS), the most abundant molecule emitted by aquatic life and the heart of the sea’s smell - an aroma of truffles and fresh algae, intertwined with the essence of life and death. The undersea vents are abundant in sulfides and the first forms of life lived around them, in extreme environments on early Earth. These vents nurture resilient extremophiles, microbes adapted to endure intense conditions, who thrived because they learned to source energy from sulphur and developed a symbiosis with other microbes that mutually recharge each other’s energy sources. These biochemical systems that may have been part of life’s boiling beginning, persist even today, in microbes coexisting inside of us.
2. INTO THE OVUM (Buttery semen)
Another crucial moment of human life reveals a secret that takes us back to our beginning. The capability to “smell” extends beyond our noses, spermatozoas, an integral part of semen, have olfactory receptors that allow them to navigate toward the female ovum and create the embryo. The vagina has a microbial community, like lactic acid bacteria, that produce cheesy, butyric, and vinegar volatiles, besides the characteristic metallic and fishy odours. The scent of semen is intriguingly tied to cadavers and death, when semen is inside the body, microbes can not proliferate and change its faint smell, however, when exposure to the air, the spermatozoa die and form putrescine, pyrroline, and cadaverine, which is found in animal death. Putrescine is a foundational element for larger molecules, spermidine and spermine, packed within spermatozoa to help the delivery of male genes to the ovum, and they are also critical for ensuring the proper functioning of DNA and RNA. When in contact with the air, these molecules, and putrescine, create pyrroline, which gives off the smell of semen and is an olfactory reminiscent of the innermost agents at work within our bodies.
3. NOURISHING (Sulfuric cheese and caramelized fruit)
Breast milk nourishes newborn mammals and its smells can range from caramel and coconut to butyric and sulfuric tones. The ability, that babies have to find the mother's milk might be linked to the presence of Dimethyl sulphide (DMS) inside the body, an animal-sulfuric volatile also found in saltwater creatures. DMS is found both in the amniotic fluid, released in the womb by microbes in the birth canal, and in the colostrum, when milk encounters bacteria on the mother’s skin or in the infant’s mouth. These benign bacteria, which help us suppress and defend against harmful microbes metabolise the sugar milk and form all kinds of smells: sulphuric from sulfides and thiols; vinegar-like odours from acetic acids; buttery and cheesy odour from diacetyl and butyric acid; and delightfully fruitiness, sweet-coconut odours and caramel qualities from lactones and furanones.
The common association of vanilla with breast milk stems not from vanilla itself but from maltol, a compound reminiscent of caramel, praline, and vanilla. Another factor that contributes to the association of vanilla with milk is the fact that any ingredient with vanilla ingested by the mother quickly passes into her milk, which further enriches the sensory experience for the baby.
4. MATERNAL LOVE (Oceanic butter)
The last crucial moment has to do with the sweet fragrance of newborn babies that contributes to their overall cuteness power, a set of stimuli that quickly awakens the attention of others and creates an emotional bond with the baby. The top of their heads, in particular, emits a delightful scent reminiscent of creamy vanilla-like cheese coupled with an undertone akin to a watermelon ocean. While there is limited research on this subject, it is widely believed that the unique fragrance associated with newborns is attributed to the presence of vernix caseosa (a cheesy varnish), this white waxy coating protects the baby’s skin in utero, retaining moisture and acts as a lubricant during the journey through the birth canal, shielding the infant from vaginal bacteria, and aiding in temperature regulation. Following birth, vernix caseosa continues to play a role in helping the baby’s skin adapt to the external environment, although it is typically washed off after approximately 24 hours, traces of the scent may linger on the baby’s hair and skin for a more extended period, contributing to the delightfull odour of newborn babies.
Find more information on this subject and others in my little book.