Why do Fruits Smell So Good?

The months have past when I stop to smell the wafting sweetness from a bowl of peaches. Now, along with the changing October leaves, the content of my fruit bowl also changes. The smells of the fruit in my kitchen, always remind me of the time of the year and the experiences that go along with the changing seasons. The emotional significance of smell in my life, made me wonder why fruits smell SO good? And what are we really smelling when we smell an apricot or a pear?

 According to the Social Issues Research Center, the association of fragrance and emotion is directly related to our emotion houses in the brain’s limbic system. In fact, our emotional limbic system is visited first before our brain recognizes what it is that we smell. So, by the time I realize that I have smelled a sweet pear, feelings associated with visiting my grandparents or trips to the beach have been triggered (followed shortly after by a craving to sit in the sun with a book while eating a whole bag of fruit). These emotions have contributed to the survival of the fruit species. By creating positive emotions with fruits and other ‘positively smelling’ items, our bodies tell us what is good to eat and what we should avoid.

The connection between smell, emotion and taste is important for the continuation of fruit to thrive. Food scientist, Harold McGee, explains that fruits have evolved to spread their seed by luring animals in who will carry their seeds away. They do so with their appealing smells, bright colors, and textures (of course, with the hopes that we would throw their seeds back into the soil). Considering that pears, apricots, peaches and plums all have large pits that need to be dispersed, it makes sense that they are all a part of the smell-alluring rose family.

 Understanding the scientific elements of smells comes along with technical words and surprising combinations. For example, the smell of peaches and nectarines come from a compound called lactones (surprisingly, lactones also contribute to the smell of coconuts). Also, apples, pears, and bananas all have the same acids that make up their esters (esters are a combination of an acid and an alcohol), but differ in their alcohols. This is not surprising since I can smell the similarity between a pear and a banana (maybe I’m crazy?).  

I feel that this information is important for sharing beyond the fact that it is evolutionarily and scientifically interesting. I believe that by understanding the complexity of a fruit’s strategy to survive, I can appreciate fruit on another level; I understand that animals and fruit mutually benefit from one another; I appreciate our local farmers who understand the ways of nature and fruit survival; and I recognize that our emotions and food preferences have a depth beyond the surface.

- Katie Gronsky

“At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
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