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Describing aroma

The aroma reaches the nose before the food or wine reach the mouth and before we can taste them.

Smell helps to discover and enjoy food as much as taste. The sense of smell explores our food before we eat it.

How to describe a smell?

Describing a smell can be a challenging task, as our language often lacks the necessary vocabulary to truly capture the complexity of various scents. However, here are a few tips to describe a smell effectively.

Compare it to something familiar

This is one of the easiest ways to describe a scent. Comparing the smell to something that most people are familiar with can help create a mental image. For example, you might describe a scent as "smelling like fresh cut grass" or "resembling the scent of vanilla."

Use descriptive adjectives

There are many adjectives you can use to describe the characteristics of a smell. Words like "sweet," "musty," "sharp," "fragrant," "sour," "rich," or "mild" can help convey the intensity and nature of a scent.

Describe its impact 

You can describe how the smell affects you or what it makes you feel. For instance, you might say that a smell is "invigorating," "nauseating," or "comforting."

Use metaphor or simile

Metaphors and similes can be a creative and vivid way to describe smells. For example, you might say "The saroma of the crispy white wine was like a slap of cold reality," or "The scent of the red wine wrapped around her like a velvet cloak."

Identify its source

If you know where the smell is coming from, this can also help in describing it. For instance, "The smell of baking bread wafted from the bakery."

Use sensory language

Smells often trigger other senses, so you can use sensory language to describe it. For example, "The smoke smelled so bitter, I could almost taste it."

Describe its complexity

Many smells are not just a single scent but a blend of many. Describing the different components of a smell can create a fuller picture. For instance, "The scent of the forest after rain was a blend of fresh earth, green leaves, and a hint of decay."

Remember, the goal is to help the reader imagine the scent as closely as possible using your description. And like any other form of description, it is also important to avoid overdoing it. Overly detailed descriptions can be tiring to read and sometimes less is more. It's about striking the right balance.

Words and adjectives for describing aromas

We know that anything nutritious tastes and smells good. The smell of that food that could be harmful is almost always unpleasant.

We only have a limited number of words to express multiples sensations and describing aromas might seem difficult. Don’t worry; most of the words can be grouped under two headers: nice aroma, and if it smells good, it will be a pleasure to eat; or foul aroma, and if it smells bad, don’t eat it. So...

How does it smell?

Acrid - Pungent, bitter, food can acquire this quality when cooked over a wood fire.

Ambrosial - Divine, sweet smelling, fragrant, aromatic.

Anosmic - Odorless, no smell at all.

Aromatic - Perfumed, fragrant, scented, sweet smelling, pungent, usually pleasing - it is not odorless and unscented.

Balmy - Having the pleasing fragrance of aromatic balm, mild, pleasant, gentle, soft and not pungent at all.

Bitter - Used when there is a bitter element in the scent, like certain types of coffee or chocolate.

Buttery - Describes smells that are rich, creamy, and similar to butter, often used for certain types of wine or rich foods.

Caramelized - Used to describe a sweet, slightly burnt smell that comes from sugar that's been cooked or caramelized.

Citrusy - Describes a scent similar to citrus fruits like lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit.

Corky - Smelling like cork.

Comforting - Pleasant aroma.

Delicate - Subtle, faint, fine, elusive, tantalizing - never overpowering.

Earthy - Used to describe smells reminiscent of fresh soil or the forest floor. It's often used for wines, truffles, and certain kinds of cheese.

Fetid - Rotten, putrid, foul, rank, squalid, fusty, stinking, smelling, the moldy, decaying smell of decomposing food - it does not smell fresh.

Floral - Describes scents that are reminiscent of flowers. This is often used for certain wines and some light, fresh dishes.

Foul - Unclean, dirty, stinking, rank, tainted, soiled, fetid, polluted - it does not smell clean and fresh.

Fragrant - A scent that is pleasing or sweet-smelling, and often intense. The word "fragrant" is often used to describe smells that are pleasant and appealing, as opposed to foul or unpleasant odors. Fragrant or perfumed are similar - you could say instead aromatic, scented, sweet smelling, sweet scented, odorous - the opposite of smelly and not odorless.

Fresh - The aroma is clean, clear, cool, refreshing, sweet and new, crisp as newly picked fruit or vegetables, warm as newly baked bread hot from the oven, - the smell does not feel insalubrious, moldy, stale or worse.

Fruity - Often used to describe wines that have the aroma of fresh fruit, or food that has a distinct fruit-like quality.

Fulsome - Generous to excess, excessive, over the board - not mild and bland.

Gamy - Having the distinctive fragrance of game, either the tangy smell that reminds of grass, forest and wild aromatic herbs in fresh game, or the rich, wet, slightly rank and stale smell in "ripe" game as it is usually held until it is slightly decomposed.

Heady - Strongly aromatic, pungent, rich, intoxicating, spicy, piquant - not a mild smell.

Herbaceous - This describes smells that are reminiscent of fresh green herbs.

Malodorous - Scented, aromatic, redolent, fragrant, stinking.

Metallic - A term used to describe a scent that is reminiscent of metal or blood.

Mild - Refers to a scent that is not strong, overpowering, or intense. It's a smell that is subtle, gentle, and often pleasant.

For example, the smell of fresh laundry or a hint of vanilla in a room can be described as a mild smell. Similarly, a fragrance that is not overly sweet, spicy, or sharp can be referred to as having a mild smell. It's a scent that is noticeable but doesn't overwhelm the senses

Muscadine - something with the sweet aroma of this type of grape.

Musty - Used for smells that are moldy, mildewy, or stale. It is an odor that is stale, damp, and often moldy or mildewy. This kind of smell is typically associated with lack of fresh air or the presence of mold or mildew, often in places like basements, old books, or clothes that have been stored away for a long time.

Musty odors are often earthy and slightly sour, and they are commonly associated with aged, unused, or damp spaces. For example, you might encounter a musty smell in an old attic, in a closet full of winter coats during the summer, or in a basement after a flood.

If food or wine have a musty smell, it is not good.

Nutty - Used to describe smells similar to that of nuts like almond, hazelnut, or walnut.

Odoriferous - It has a strong smell.

Odorless - unscented, no smell, no scent whatsoever - the complete opposite to aromatic, fragrant, odorous and perfumed.

Olfactory - Food or wine that produce impact on the nose.

Piquant - Stinging, pungent, an aroma that tickles the nose.

Pungent -It has a strong aroma, it is spicy, hot, heady, overpowering, maybe sharp or bitter, but certainly not bland. It could be forceful, biting, cutting, maybe caustic or slightly acetic, but certainly not mild.

Putrescent - Fetid, a rotting smell, putrid, certainly smelly, stinking and worse. Nothing further from smelling sweet or a pleasant aroma.

Putrid - Fetid.

Rancid - The stale smell of something past its sell by date, rank, off, sour, rotten - not fresh at all.

Rank - A pungent aroma leaning to the bad side, fetid, smelly, foul, stale, rancid - not soft, balmy and fresh.

Redolent - Malodorous, stinking, fragrant, aromatic on the shady side but not unscented or odorless.

Rich - Often refers to a complex, full, and deep aroma that is often pleasant and satisfying when describing food or wine.

In the context of food, a "rich" smell could be associated with something that is heavily spiced or contains a variety of ingredients that contribute to a full and complex aroma. For example, a stew that has been slow-cooking for hours, a cake baking with lots of butter and vanilla, or a strong cheese could all produce what could be described as a "rich" smell.

In the case of wine, a "rich" aroma (often referred to as the wine's "bouquet" or "nose") could refer to a variety of complex scents. This could include a combination of fruit, spices, wood, or other elements, depending on the type of wine and how it was made.

Savory - Describes aromas that are not sweet but rather full, rich, and appetizing. If the food is described as having a savory aroma the smell can be either spicy, pungent, flavorsome, and aromatic, salty but not sweet, or pleasant, nice, wholesome.

Scented - Perfumed, fragrant, aromatic, it does smell opposite to odorless or unscented.

Sharp - In the context of food, a sharp smell could be associated with ingredients like strong cheeses, raw onions, or certain spices. These foods have aromas that are immediately detectable and can fill a room quickly.

In the case of wine, a sharp smell might suggest high acidity or a strong presence of certain aromas like citrus, green apple, or even vinegar in some cases. It could also indicate the presence of certain compounds like sulfites, which might produce a sharp or pungent smell.

It's important to note that, while sharp smells can be intense and striking, they aren't always negative. A certain level of sharpness can add complexity and character to both food and wine. However, if a smell is overly sharp to the point of being unpleasant, it might indicate that something is off, especially in the case of wine.

Smelly - Reeking of foul perfume, malodorous, putrid, fetid, stinking, moldy, stale - not sweet and fragrant.

Smoky - This word describes the scent of smoke, often used for barbecued foods or certain types of whiskey.

Sour - Describes a tart or acidic scent. Often describes an aroma that is strong, penetrating, or pungent. It might be immediately noticeable and quite intense, perhaps even to the point of being a bit harsh or stinging to the nose.

A "sour" smell, when discussing food or wine, refers to an aroma that is acidic, tart, or similar to that of fermented or spoiled food. This term often implies a smell that is unpleasant or off-putting, though in certain contexts, a sour aroma may be desired or even considered positive.

In food, a sour smell could indicate spoilage, like milk that has turned bad or meat that is past its prime. However, there are also foods that are intentionally sour and give off this type of smell as part of their appeal, such as certain types of cheese, sourdough bread, or fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi.

In the context of wine, a sour smell can be a sign of a wine fault, such as vinegar-like smell indicating the presence of acetic acid, which could mean the wine has turned to vinegar. However, certain wines may have a mildly sour or tart aroma as part of their profile, especially if they are high in certain types of acidity.

In either case, describing a smell as "sour" usually suggests a noticeable level of acidity, and whether it is viewed as a good or bad thing can greatly depend on the specific context.

Spicy - This word is used when the aroma gives a sense of spices like cinnamon, clove, or pepper.

Stinking - Foul smelling, reeking, rotten, putrid, fetid, rank, malodorous - not fresh, sweet and fragrant. Hopefully, you will not find anything like it on your plate, although some would argue that certain very much appreciated cheeses stink.

Stuffy - Oppressive, stifling, hot, the aroma goes to your head - probably no fresh.

Sweet - Used when the aroma gives a sense of sweetness, like sugar or honey. It is a pleasing and easy on the palate, it can go from genteel and nice, to delightful and attractive, tends to be satisfying, enjoyable and rewarding, might be sugary, probably fresh, pure and appealing - it would not be harsh, foul or unappealing.

Toasty - Describes scents that are reminiscent of toasted bread.

Woody - Used for smells that recall wood or bark, such as oak-aged wines or smoked foods.

Yeasty - Describes smells reminiscent of yeast, often used for bread, beer, or certain sparkling wines.

A few examples for inspiration

"The savory aroma of the roast chicken wafted through the kitchen, its fragrance rich with garlic and rosemary, making the air heavy with anticipation for the comforting meal to come. The scent of the crispy, golden-brown skin promised a satisfying crunch, while the underlying hints of lemon and thyme suggested a burst of citrusy freshness." (roast chicken)

"As the bread baked, the house filled with a heart-warming aroma, a perfect blend of yeast and toasty grains. There was a tantalizing hint of sweet caramelization as the crust turned a deep golden brown, making one crave for a slather of creamy butter melting into the warm, soft crumb." (freshly baked bread)

"The rich, intoxicating smell of the chocolate cake baking in the oven was nothing short of heavenly. The dark, luxurious aroma of cocoa blended perfectly with the sweet scent of vanilla, promising a decadent treat. Underneath, a subtle hint of espresso served to enhance the chocolate's depth, creating a sensory experience that was nearly impossible to resist." (chocolate cake)

"The backyard was filled with the mouth-watering aroma of the grilled steak. The savory smell of searing meat mingled with the smoky scent of the charcoal fire. A hint of garlic and rosemary suggested a marinade that was as flavorful as it was aromatic, painting a picture of a meal that was both hearty and satisfying." (Grilled Steak)

"The aroma of the spaghetti Bolognese was a symphony of scents. The rich, hearty smell of slow-cooked beef and pork mixed with the sweetness of caramelized onions and carrots. The tangy fragrance of tomatoes simmering with fresh basil and oregano added a vibrant freshness. And all of it was underscored by the comforting, familiar scent of pasta, promising a meal that was both filling and deeply satisfying." (spaghetti bolognese)


"Pleasant smell," "pleasant scent," and "pleasant odor" all refer to olfactory sensations that are enjoyable or agreeable. They are essentially synonymous in everyday conversation and can be used interchangeably, though the connotations may differ slightly due to the typical contexts in which they are used. Here's a brief explanation of each:

Pleasant smell is a broad term that can be used in a variety of contexts. It could describe the smell of a wide range of things, from freshly baked bread to a clean room to a particular perfume.

Pleasant scent is often used to describe things that are intentionally made to smell good, such as perfumes, candles, or air fresheners. However, it can also be used more broadly to refer to anything that smells good, such as the scent of rain or the scent of freshly cut grass.

Pleasant odor is not used often. Though "odor" can sometimes have a negative connotation and be associated with bad smells, it is technically a neutral term that refers to any smell. Therefore, a "pleasant odor" would simply be any smell that is enjoyable. However, because of the sometimes negative connotation of "odor," this phrase may be less commonly used than "pleasant smell" or "pleasant scent."

The specific term chosen can depend on personal preference, cultural usage, and the specific situation. In general, "smell" and "scent" are likely to be more commonly used to describe pleasant olfactory sensations, while "odor" is more often used to describe unpleasant ones.

Words for good smelling

A nice smell is called ammbrosial, aromatic, balmy, comforting, delicate, fragrant, fresh, fulsome, heady, muscadine, piquant, pungent, rich, savory, scented, sharp, sweet.

Unpleasant smells

Anosmic, corky, fetid, foul, malodorous, musty, odoriferous, odorless, putrescent, putrid, rancid, rank, redolent, smelly, sour, stinky, stufy.

Aroma versus fragrance

"Aroma" and "fragrance" are often used interchangeably in colloquial language, but they can have different connotations and uses depending on the context.

Aroma: This term is often used to describe a pleasant or appealing smell, typically related to food or drink, but can also apply to things like wine, coffee, spices, and so on. For example, one might talk about the "aroma of fresh-baked bread" or the "aroma of a well-aged wine". Aroma can also be used to refer to the combination of smells and flavors that are experienced while eating or drinking, especially when it comes to wine tasting.

Fragrance: The term "fragrance" is more commonly used to refer to the scent of cosmetics, perfumes, or other manufactured products designed to have a specific smell. It is less commonly used to describe the smell of food or drink. Fragrance can also refer to the pleasant smell of natural things, like flowers or plants.

In scientific terms, both aroma and fragrance refer to volatile chemical compounds that our olfactory system perceives as smells. The usage of these terms often comes down to cultural and personal preference, as well as the specific context. and fragrance are often used interchangeably in colloquial language, but they can have different connotations and uses depending on the context.

aroma - fragrance, smell, odor, scent, perfume, fragrance, or bouquet. The term "aroma" is often used specifically for pleasant and somewhat complex smells, especially those associated with food, drink, or certain natural or man-made products.

anosmia - total or partial loss of sense of smell.

hircine - a caprine odor, something that smells of goat.

Describing food

Describing a wine

Culinary reference