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13 November 2014
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Perfumes c/o AP Images

The sweet smell of perfume.

The power of smell

It's commonly known that we have five senses - sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Smell is potentially the most powerful. Inside Out meets a man who spends all his time making smells for a living.

Smell is the only one of our senses directly hard wired to our brains.

Just one whiff of an old classroom can instantly transport you back to your school days.

Steve Pearce, who runs Omega Ingredients in a small village just outside Ipswich, is one of the country's top experts on smells.

He can produce a range of smells in his laboratory.

Steve can create a whole range of smells which can be used in anything from foodstuffs and beverages to making your car smell pleasant.

While the bulk of Steve's time is spent producing smells and flavours for food products, he's occasionally asked to create something far more exotic.

A museum recently set him a bizarre challenge - they got him to re-create the smell of the hair of the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra.

Whiff of success

Steve says, "The sense of smell is by far the most powerful of all our senses - our most underrated sense.

"It's the direct extension of the brain. Its direct contact means we get a very quick, very intensive reaction to odours.

Men smelling from spoon

Creating smells in the lab - a challenge

"When a baby it is our only way of communicating with the world. We can identify our parents by their smell and that's how a new born find its mother's breast.

"No one really understands fully how our sense of smell works.

"The nerve receptors are linked directly to the brain. There is nothing between them and the brain, unlike other senses."

But that acute sense of smell we have as babies doesn't stay with us for long.

"As we get older, we abuse our taste buds," says Steve.

"We smoke, we drink alcohol and we simply get used to things - and of course, the body ages."

Out of this world

Steve Pearce's latest project is literally out of this world.

Nasa heard about his work and they've asked him to re-create the smell of outer space to add a whiff of realism to their training programmes.

Steve says, "I was a bit surprised when they got in touch. What they want is for me to make the smell of space, so they can make their training exercises with astronauts more realistic.

"So when they are pretending to do a space walk by floating in a swimming pool, it will smell of outer space.

"What they've done is asked astronauts who've done space walks to describe what the smell was like.

"They said it has a kind of metallic smell like fried steak or hot metal.

"What I will do is try and re-create those particular odours. I'll let Nasa have samples and we'll fine tune it until I've got what they want."

Matter of life and death

In prehistoric times man's sense of smell could literally prove a matter of life or death.

Child smelling liquid

Smell is one of the strongest senses.

Steve explains that: "Early man went round on all fours and had no bony nose, just a couple of holes. He used to be able to smell to spot danger.

"But as man rose up and started to walk about on two legs, the two smell holes grew a bony cover, the nose. Also now he relied less on smell and more on sight."

In Roman times smell was also important. They were the first to use additives to enhance the smell and taste of food.

They used left over fish remains to make a sauce which could be used to flavour foods.

Man has been doing the same thing ever since.


Steve Pearce believes we are in danger of overlooking the sense of smell.

However smell is still important in a several key areas of our lives - food and sexual attraction.

Space c/o NASA

Space - a new frontier for smells.

Steve says that, "Our sense of smell still plays an important role in helping us choose a mate."

Women still use smell to sniff out a potential life partner.

And in the food industry smell still plays an important part in how we judge what we eat and drink.

"Most of what you actually experience and perceive as the flavour of food is coming from the small - not what's happening in the mouth," says Steve.

So despite the fact we tend to undervalue smell, it is actually a very important of part of our daily lives.

We want your best and worst smells

What are your favourite smells?

Perhaps it's the smell of fresh bread or the scent of roses or lilacs?

And which smells are a positive turn-off? Maybe it's the smell of raw meat, body odour or a particular food or environment?

Send us your best and worst smells on the form below and we'll publish a selection of them...

Your smells...

Best smells baby powder, fresh coffee, fresh baked bread.

Worst smells - burning plastic, dog and cat dodo and the new anti-slip road covering smell in Luton.

Denise Brown, Luton

Tell us your best and worst smell...


We will respond to your email if you are requesting further information or feedback.

last updated: 12/11/2008 at 15:36
created: 28/09/2008

You are in: Inside Out > East > The power of smell

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