If it Smells Good, Eat It?

If it smells good, eat it? A report in today's issue of the journal Science suggests that the scent of fresh strawberries or the pleasantly pungent aroma of ginger and garlic may be the olfactory equivalent of Alice in Wonderland's “eat me” signs, enticing us to eat foods that are good for us.

The report, “Plant Volatile Compounds: Sensory Cues for Health and Nutritional Value?,” compared two kinds of tomatoes, one a commercially grown variety, the other a wild tomato. The researchers found that the wild tomato, which had a better flavor and aroma, was significantly higher in nutrients as well.

When it comes to commercially grown vegetables, plant breeders tend to focus on color, shape, yield and disease resistance at the expense of flavor and nutrition. Gardeners have known for generations that a homegrown tomato, however misshapen or funny looking it may be, tastes infinitely better than those perfectly round and red store-bought tomatoes with their bland flavor and mealy texture.

Now, it looks like the tomato that tastes and smells better actually is better for us. The report also notes that the scent compounds found in onions, garlic, ginger and chili peppers, as well as such spices as turmeric, rosemary, sage, clove, mustard and thyme, may be associated with the many beneficial properties these pantry staples contain.

As an avid gardener, I'm gratified to learn that the vegetables I grow aren't just superior in taste and texture, but are probably healthier, too.

I only have one problem with the premise of this study. The gist of it is, the better something smells, the better it is for you. But is anything more alluring than the aroma of fresh donuts wafting from a Krispy Kreme storefront? And when I pass the Shake Shack, its shutters closed for the season, I wonder how soon they'll be firing up the deep fryers. Daffodils are all well and good, but nothing says “spring” like the smell of fresh French fries wafting through Madison Square Park.


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