Our sense of smell has been very important to the survival of our human race, but is no longer keenly developed and utilized in our lives today.
Our sense of smell can unveil to us a world so vast, unknown and unexplored, that with only a few small work-outs, that can even seem like a game, we can transform our kitchen into an adventure park, and children can also participate! Are you ready to try this easy olfactory work-out?
You must start with the intention not to cheat. ;)
The olfactory tasting must be done blindly. What does that mean? Let's look at it this way: If we take an orange, we cut it in half and we smell its scent holding it in our hand, after having maybe turned it between our fingers and admired its bright and sunny color with our eyes, our brain leads us to say that yes, it really smells like an orange. This occurs even if our sense of smell is compromised for some reason (i.e. we have a cold). We know that the orange smells like "orange" even without smelling it, and the same is true for lemon, lime and so on. Citrus fruits in general have characteristic aromas, but we often just perceive their aroma only because in our heads we already expect to detect that type of smell.
The blind sensory experience makes everything much more interesting, and we immediately explain why by simply showing you how to do it. No complicated tools or demanding preparations are needed.
If you will be smelling liquids, coffee cups are sufficient. In the case of "solid" foods or products, however, opaque plastic cups with holes punched in the bottom and then turned upside down to hide the food you smell, will do the trick. How do we proceed?
Let's go back to our citrus fruits, which are often quite easy to find around the kitchen and lend themselves well to the game. Collect, for example, an orange, a lemon, a lime and a grapefruit. Or you can indulge yourself with other less "common" citrus fruits, such as citron, or bergamot. Whatever you feel like or have at hand, will do. Next, cut one fruit at a time, squeeze the juice into the cup (in this case we are working with liquids) and using a piece of tape and a marker, indicate on the bottom of the cup the content you have just poured. The same operation must be repeated for each fruit. The choice of four samples is not accidental. When increasing the number of aromas to be smelled, there is a strong risk of confusing your nose with too many similar choices, thus ruining your training experience.
Now, you can proceed. Mix up the order of the cups in order to test yourself blindly and smell each one separately attempting to describe the scent in as much detail as possible. This serves to stimulate our brain in a way we aren't used to, and helps us to memorize the scent we've encountered- a little bit like when we are studying for an exam and we repeat the subject matter out loud to learn it better.
You can try to use all the adjectives that the smell evokes to describe it (e.g. soft, sour, pungent, delicate). Draw from your memories. Try to make comparisons between the smell samples after having smelled all of them. For example, how would you describe the difference between the smell of lemon and that of bergamot? Does, perhaps, the smell of bergamot seem more "floral" to you? Or more "soft" than that of lemon? The descriptions you create are entirely subjective, but serve to help you memorize and then recognize the particular smell.
You can try this experiment with all sorts of foods or products. It's especially easy with things normally stocked in your kitchen such as spices, white fruits, red fruits (though berries tend to only release the maximum quantity of their aromas once in the mouth), and flowers if you have an abundant garden.
Stimulating the sense of smell with these blind tasting games is very important because it allows us to activate areas of the brain that are little used, but in strong connection with memory and with the other senses. In a way, it makes us smarter... not to mention that it helps us to become more aware consumers of food and better cooks in the kitchen.
As you can see, it is not necessary to have professional or complex and sophisticated tools in hand in order to train our sense of smell. And this can be a playful exercize that can also be done with children, to make them aware of the different facets of the products that nature offers us. So, everyone in the kitchen and let's have fun!