Friday, February 06, 2009

And the answer to the mystery is....

...Maple Furanone. I think.

So you know about the mysterious maple syrup smell that has ever and anon wafted around NYC, right? I think it started in 2005, and I remember learning of it from gawker, because I don't remember ever smelling it myself, even though I lived in the Columbia 'hood at the time. Anyway, for some time now I've been certain that it's maple furanone. Why? Uhhhh, because I'm a scent nerd---DUH!

But seriously, this is why: I knew that caramel furanone is one b9itch of a molecule that you don't want to mess around with. Because it's STRONG. Believe me. I've once owned some 3% caramel furanone (diluted in propylene glycol, I believe), and trust me, it's very, very, very strong. Now, I knew that it was extremely strong, so I thought maybe it could be the culprit behind the mysterious maple smell, because it can smell of caramel or maple, depending on the concentration. Amberway, one day I was googling it and came across this page from Leffingwell, about burnt sugar notes. And it discussed maple furanone, which apparently is MUCH stronger than CF. Behold:
With a detection threshold of 0.00001 ppb maple furanone is nearly 3,000,000 times more powerful than cyclotene and in fact is one of the most powerful flavor chemicals known to man.

Odor Detection Threshold (in water) = 0.00001 ppb
Powerful maple-caramel aroma and taste

When I read that I knew for certain that this had to be the chemical behind the maple smell. Because I know there are flavor/fragrance manufacturers in NYC and NJ (the actual manufacturing plants are probably all in NJ; the "artistry" is probably done at headquarters in the city, perhaps like at a place like Symrise), and it's entirely possible that just a small spill of MF could scent a whole city. I know I read something in a Luca Turin book (methinks) about a town in France that smelled like a cumulus-cloud-sized fruit (pineapple? mango?) when someone dumped some of a certain raw material down the drain chez a fragrance material manufacturer's.

Annehathaway, when Bloomberg announced today that the source of the odor (and who knew they were really researching the source?!) was some plant in NJ that manufactures flavors from fenugreek, I knew that it had to be MF, because it's extracted/synthesized from fenugreek (another name for it is ethyl fenugreek lactone). Now, he said that the odor was an ester, and I admit: I don't know enough chemistry to speak to that, but I feel sure that MF is the the culprit here--perhaps the 'ester' part comes in when we're talking about what it's diluted in? A company in NJ manufactures it 50% in "Triacetin"? According to wikipedia, triacetin is "
the triester of glycerol and acetic acid." So maybe that's where the ester part comes in.

Arboritumway, I made sure to post my prediction for what the smell was on the boards for the Brian Lehrer show today before Bloomberg announced it, and either I was right or sounded right enough, because a producer emailed me and asked if I had insider info. "Nope, just an enthusiast"--story of my life, right? Whatevz--so I might be on the show for minnut or two tomorrow for "follow-up Friday," but we'll see.

But I certainly didn't post with any thought of getting on the air--my thought was to DOCUMENT this shelleezy. Because I KNOW I had mentioned to someone that the maple smell must be maple furanone in the past year or so. I know that I had. So when I posted that, I took screenshots, because it's about time I started getting cred for my predictions. I'm like the Faith Popcorn of, well, uh, all that random stuff I'm interested in, except I don't have a drag queen-sounding name. (I have a "sounds like a Duke in England" name.) For further proof of my dizzazzling prognostication powers, I direct Thee to my latest post on the WFMU blog, where I discuss how I've been saying that "oxytocin is the new serotonin" since at least 2003. (It's a 13,000-word entry. No, really. That's according to Microsoft Word's "word count" feature. So scroll to the endnotes for the oxytocin ish. Yes. I did endnotes. Because I can get highfalutin.)

I shall post the screenshots laterly, since I forgot even to email them to myself. But I shallst!!

And that's the I-was-right-bow-down-before-my-futureknowingness beep for now.


PS: Yes, I'm available for fragrance private investigator work. My consulting rate is, uh, $1,495.77/hr. And, yeah, we can work this into a movie or TV series if you want: Ed Shepp: Scent PI. We'll have to shoot on location in Hawaii, though, because that's where my character will be scouring nature for new odorants when he's not solving mysteries 'n stuff. Know wa'ah mean?


Karla said...

This is a world of awesome. Thanks for your fine detective work!

Chandler Burr said...

Ed, very interesting. I haven't followed the maple scent mystery closely, but your conclusion sounds entirely plausible. A raw materials buddy of mine at Symrise told me last year that furanones are perceptible in parts per billion; I've got a sample, with some insane dilution, and just from the bottle you feel like the stuff could have blasted to Nova Scotia. best, Chandler Burr