Multicultural smell test kicked pumpkin pie out

A slice of homemade Thanksgiving pumpkin pie s...

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By Emily Eggleston

Hopefully you didn’t have a cold this Thanksgiving because a blocked nose means a bland meal. Taste is mostly smell. Without smell, we’re cast into a world limited to food texture, temperature, and minimal flavor differentiation.

The study of smells extends into ancient history, according Jayant Pinto, a nasal specialist (aka an MD in otolaryngology). In his 2011 publication on olfaction, he called smell the mediator of safety, nutrition, sensation of pleasure, and general well-being.

If you smelled one of the millions of pumpkins pies baking in the U.S. yesterday it may have conjured many associations. Family gatherings, Thanksgiving feasts of yore, cold weather, cozy desserts. For the Irish guest in attendance at my Thanksgiving dinner, the pumpkin pie tasted and smelled like nothing familiar. It was a new dessert to try.

Unbeknownst to me, pumpkin pie is not a universally recognized treat or scent. That was part of the challenge Richard Doty, Avron Marcus and W. William Lee ran into when they tried to craft a smell test that could be used all around the globe. Follow the scent…