from the editor: Sniffing out new markets

May 04, 2010
Written by
According to the Sense of Smell Institute, the average person is able to recognize about 10,000 different odours. The sense of smell is powerful; try eating your favourite food while pinching your nostrils, and see if it tastes as good.

Breeders have gone over the top with ensuring shelf life for cuts and extended flowering performance in the garden, and those are important traits. But little has been done with enhanced fragrance, though that may be changing.

An August 2000 report by Purdue University scientists noted that “boosting floral scents would not only make flower beds more aesthetically pleasing, it would also improve the yield and quality of many crops.” The report continues that, “plants use floral scents to attract pollinators or to repel harmful insects . . . . The aroma of a flower may contain as few as seven to 10 different oils, as in snapdragon or petunia, or as many as 100 different chemicals, as is the case with orchids.”

How important is fragrance to consumers? New York Times reporter Natalie Angier, in an Aug. 5, 2008, feature entitled “The Nose, an Emotional Time Machine,” spoke to several leading fragrance researchers. She noted that, “importantly, the olfactory cortex is embedded within the brain’s limbic system and amygdala, where emotions are born and emotional memories stored.”

In a posting (“The Science of Scented Memories”) on the Human Flower Project website, taste and smell specialist Dr. Alan Hirsch (founder and neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago), noted that flower fragrances affect us in a number of ways. “Lavender, he’s found, causes relaxation. Jasmine has ‘been proven to enhance athletic performance, and the smell of violets ‘enhance(d) learning speed by 17 per cent.’ (Lilies, by the way, ‘increase wakefulness’ so should probably be nixed for sleep studies.) And roses? Their fragrance, according to Hirsch, ‘increase(s) olfactory evoked nostalgia that will bring happy moments back to memory.’”

The sense of smell is one of the last to deteriorate during the normal aging process in otherwise healthy individuals, according to recent research in Australia, remaining strong long after eyesight and hearing begin to deteriorate.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem scientists, led by Prof. Alexander Vainstein, have patented a way to genetically enhance the scent of flowers and implant a scent in those that don’t have one. “Over a third of participants in Flowers and Plants Association surveys stated that scent influenced their choice of flower purchase,” notes a news release. “The flower industry will be keenly interested in this development, explains Prof. Vainstein. “Many flowers lost their scent over many years of breeding. Recent developments will help to create flowers with increased scent as well as producing new scent components in the flowers.”

Shakespeare said it best in Romeo and Juliet, with the classic line: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Consumers, star-crossed Elizabethan-era lovers among them, expect flowers to be fragrant. There’s a large market segment of fragrance aficionados not being adequately served.

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