A book cover with plants inside a vial.
Courtesy Penguin Press

Harold McGee Unpicks the Science of Scent

The author surveys countless scents in his new book “Nose Dive: A Field Guide To The World’s Smells.”
By Tom Morris
November 7, 2020
1 minute read

Your nose knows best. So says Harold McGee, a leading expert on the science of food and cooking, and author of the new book Nose Dive: A Field Guide To The World’s Smells. Developed over the course of a decade, the blockbuster attempts to unpack the science of scent by looking in great depth (the tome is just shy of 700 pages) at all manner of whiffs, spanning the odor of wet pavement to the pong of swamps to the aroma of truffles. Learn why skin sometimes has a metallic tang, how parmesan can adopt the flavor of pineapple, and the reason that green tea tastes like the seaside (and how strange that is, given that the seaside technically is un-tasteable). It’s a geeky, meticulously researched compendium that reflects McGee’s deep-seated belief that all scents exist to be noticed. Smells “can tell us about how they came to be, about the otherwise insensible workings of the world,” he writes. “There’s a rich world of sensations and significance out there, intangible and invisible and fleeting, but vivid and real.”