Making Sense of Scents

The five senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell are indeed powerful.  They protect us, they help define our personalities (ie: “he’s very visual”) and they have the power to evoke emotion in all of us.  While the sense of smell would rank lower on most people’s most-valuable-sense list, it is a truly remarkable one. Most fascinating for me, is how scent is such a powerful trigger of memory and emotion.

Memory & Scent

Oscar de la Renta. It’s the perfume my grandmother used to wear. She’s not with us anymore, but nothing brings her back to me more than passing by someone who’s wearing that fragrance.

Walking down a street in little India here in Toronto literally feels like you’re in Mumbai, because of the smoky wafts from corn and peanut roasters on the sidewalks. These familiar scents have the power to transport me right to the noisy streets of a faraway place, evoking the emotion of chaos and community I felt when I toured there years ago.

I’m amazed at how a well-timed scent can just trigger a memory, so much more than sight, touch, taste and sound.

The Science Behind It.

We did a little research and found some fascinating articles about how our sense of smell works. Perhaps the most interesting fact is that while other sensory inputs go to a part of your brain called the thalamus for ‘additional processing’, smell bypasses this step and goes directly to the olfactory bulb, where scent is processed in your brain. Even more, we have over 1,000 types of scent receptors (compared to only a few light and touch receptors), and there’s even some evidence that memories are held directly in our olfactory bulb. Perhaps scent unlocks a bank of memories that other senses simply don’t have access to.

Our Approach at Maple & Lather

Given the complexity of how scent is processed by our bodies, and how it makes us feel, you can imagine how complicated it is for the M&L team to lock in on a specific scent we unanimously love. Even a simple and traditional scent like lavender has us testing dozens of variants. Scents are often de-constructed into pyramids (more on that in a future blog), with base, heart and top notes, and so one of our fragrances is really a combination of many scent notes. As an example, our Maple scent has base notes of vanilla wood, heart notes of caramel & coconut, and top notes of maple and brown sugar. For me, it’s the base of vanilla that I like most. All at once it reminds me of a cool night in a log cabin with a bright fire and a blanket. I couldn’t even tell you why that’s what I recall, but it is tranquil and warm all at once.

To Each their Own

With over 30 different scent notes cutting across our 6 soap and candle fragrances, who knows what each one might trigger for you? The eucalyptus notes in Lemon Verbena might take you on a forest hike, while the lemon notes in our Orange Bergamot may allow you to recall summer sipping a cocktail with friends. Whatever it may be, make sure you take it all in, the next time you lather up, or light a candle!

– Team M&L


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