World's favourite SMELLS revealed by scientists – as well as the worst

EVERYONE'S favourite smell isn't sweet peaches or the fresh scent of roses – but vanilla.

That's the finding from a global study that uncovered the most universally-loved odour.

Scientists nosed their way around the world to find out if our favourite smells are cultural – or simply innate.

And they sniffed out the answer: we're born with it.

"We wanted to examine if people around the world have the same smell perception and like the same types of odour," said Artin Ashamian, a neuroscientist at Sweden's Karolinska Institute.

"Or whether this is something that is culturally learned.

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"Traditionally it has been seen as cultural, but we can show that culture has very little to do with it."

It turns out that people tend to like or dislike the same smells – regardless of their cultural backgrounds.

Researchers asked participants to sniff 10 unique scents, and then rank them based on how nice they were.

Sniffing scents were 235 individuals from 10 different communities.

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That included four hunter-gatherer groups, as well as five groups with "different forms of farming and fishing".

And a final tenth group was taken from New York City.

According to the study, some of the groups had "very little contact" with Western foods and household items.

Most variation in how pleasant a scent is perceived to be comes from pure personal preference as well as molecular structure.

The most widely favoured scent was vanilla.

Second was ethyl butyrate, which smells like peaches. It's used as a flavour additive.

Third on the list linalool – which has a floral scent with a "touch of spiciness".

"Cultures around the world rank different odours in a similar way no matter where they come from," said Dr Ashamnian, whose work was published in the journal Current Biology.

"But odour preferences have a personal – although not cultural – component."

Bottom of the list was isovaleric acid.

It has a famously unpleasant odour, described as being strong, pungent, cheesy and sweaty.

This was the most universally disliked scent, despite participants coming from a range of cultures all around the world.

"Personal preference can be due to learning, but could also be a result of our genetic makeup," Dr Arshamian explained.

The scent list

Here's how the scents were ranked globally, from most delightful to least pleasant…

  • 1. Vanillin – vanilla flavour, extracted from vanilla beans
  • 2. Ethyl Butyrate – fruity odour, like pineapple or peaches
  • 3. Linalool – flowery scent, with a touch of spiciness
  • 4. Eugenol – Spicy, clove-like scent
  • 5. 2-Phenylethanol – Pleasant floral odour, used for a rose scent
  • 6. 1-Octen-3-ol – a mushroom scent, also contained in human breath and sweat
  • 7. Octanoic acid – an unpleasant rancid-like smell and taste found in milk
  • 8. 3-Isobutly-2-methoxypryazine – fresh bell pepper smell
  • 9. Dimethyl disulphide – an unpleasant garlic-like odour
  • 10. Isovaleric acid – unpleasant odour described as pungent, cheesy and sweaty

"Now we know that there’s universal odour perception that is driven by molecular structure and that explains why we like or dislike a certain smell," Dr Arshamian said.

"The next step is to study why this is so by linking this knowledge to what happens in the brain when we smell a particular odour."

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