Training the Nose with Herbs and Spices

spice_turkey_black_pepper_cumin_cinnamon_sweeteners_sunday-879157.jpg!dThe sense of smell provides an amazing way to take in an environment. It helps to set the scene, it creates memories, and it even provides a sense of identity through scents that we wear on our bodies. Aromatherapy can help heal, and being able to smell things like gas or rotting food can help protect us. All of that being said, it pays to be in tune with your own sense of smell, whether for the sake noticing more scents around you, for increasing your ability to taste, or for developing your perfumer’s nose.

One great tool for fine-tuning your sense of smell is probably sitting right under your nose, metaphorically speaking, for now. Literally speaking, it’s probably in the kitchen, and more specifically in your spice cabinet. This shelf is filled with flavors both for the mouth and nose to enjoy, an affordable and readily available organ of olfactory experiences. Just as a perfumer inhales the oils from their organ before adding one to a concoction, so does the chef inhale the scents of their spices to get a feel for what will enhance their recipe.

In fact, many of these same plants, herbs, and spices are regularly used in perfumes at Possets and elsewhere. Take, for instance, black pepper. It adds a little kick to a dish, and does the same for a perfume recipe. A perfumer’s organ might also contain scents like turmeric, ginger, oregano, cinnamon, vanilla, cumin, rosemary, or coriander. All of these scents can be appreciated equally for their contribution to lovely perfumes as well as for their role in delicious meals.

Now that you’re standing in front of this lively library of scents, it’s time to start sniffing. Start with something really familiar to you. That might be oregano, vanilla, or black pepper (but keep your distance so as not to sneeze!). Take a sniff and enjoy the familiar smell. Then, take a second deep inhalation and do your best to notice the smell as if you’d never smelled it before. Try to pick out some adjectives that describe what your nose is experiencing. Is it earthy? Sweet? Citrusy? Warm? Write down a few descriptors so that you can return to your notes later upon a second and third sniff.

If you’re ready for more, a trip to a local market can lead you to a wider range of fresh herbs. Herbs are an excellent tool for training the nose, particularly when starting out, because they’ll cost you much less than essential oils but can still give you a wide range of smells to experience and study. It’s also fun to look up recipes that use these herbs, and compare the way the herbs taste with how they smell.

If you want to follow a three-level practice for developing your nose, you can take a look at this one from BoisDeJasmin.com. Here the author shares some advice from her professional training on how to gradually teach your nose to pick up more scents, starting with casual daily sniffing and ending with intentional morning meditations on scents.

The more often you return to your cabinet or pantry to smell herbs, spices, teas, and oils, the more notes your nose will learn to pickup. Once you’re in the habit of smelling, you might find that you’re sniffing everything around you anywhere you go, changing and even enhancing the way you take in experiences.

by Katrina Eresman