How much is our judgement of smells affected by sight?
In his fascinating book "What The Nose Knows", smell scientist and sensory psychologist Avery Gilbert counts several interesting experiments that explored the relationships between visual appearances' effect on how scents were perceived.
It turns out that we are far more prejudiced about the odours that go through our nostrils than we may think. For example: when smelling a colourless liquid versus coloured liquid, test subjects perceived the coloured one as stronger than when they smelled the same one bind-folded. Reverse perception was reported when the subject were not allowed to sniff the smell of a beverage, but rather sip it through a straw out of a cup with a clear lid (FYI: our sense of smell plays an active role in what we call "tasting" as it is a huge contributor to flavour - the scent of food is experienced differently once it's inside our mouth and rises to our nasal cavity and olfactory bulbs).
I wonder if this has any implications on, say, genetically modified food? Would we perceive a genetically-engineered apple-flavoured banana as more banana-like just because of it's appearance, or will the apple flavour come through properly? Yet another reason to not bother with genetic engineering in food... Likewise, when a bottle of essential oils is mislabeled - it can really catch even the most avid nose off-guard. A few weeks ago, a bottle of "fresh ginger oil" arrived, full of no other than rose geranium oil. Occasionally, I will still re-visit the bottle and try to convince myself of its gingery qualities... to no avail.
If you have a story to share, or how you were convinced that something had a different smell than it did just because of a misleading "packaging" - do share. Among the commenters there will be a draw for a decant of Yerbamate. Nice way to conclude last weeks' Fougere course :-)
P.s. Avery Gilbert also has an excellent blog on pretty much everything related to smell-science, First Nerve.