Jason Castro from Bates College, Arvind Ramanathan from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Chakra Chennubhotla from the University of Pittsburg used data from smell tests conducted with dozens of trained olfactory scientists and perfumers. The volunteers rated how well each compound fit one of 146 descriptors, such as 'pleasantness', 'sweetness' or 'heaviness'. The researchers were able to develop a mathematical model of all the kinds of odors we can smell. According to them, we can detect ten broad categories of odor. I know you’re dying to know what they are, so here’s the list:
- Fruity (non-citrus)
The last two are both ‘sickening’ odors that you would wish to avoid.
10 largest-valued descriptors for each of the 10 basis vectors obtained from non-negative matrix factorization.
To be clear, the researchers were classifying single odors, not jambalaya. I wouldn't put too much stock in the names or rigidity of these categories. That said, I find it interesting that there could be discrete divisions of smells.
Castro JB, Ramanathan A, & Chennubhotla CS (2013). Categorical dimensions of human odor descriptor space revealed by non-negative matrix factorization. PloS one, 8 (9) PMID: 24058466.