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The Speed of Smell

How food smells is very important to the Chinese Quest.  It’s one of the basic metrics we capture when we review Chinese restaurants, and accounts for 10% of a Chinese restaurants overall rating.  But, is there a science behind this measurement?  What is smell?  Is it alive?  Does it move?  Does it have a life of it’s own?  Does it have an energy, and therefore possess the capability of movement or travel?  In this article I will examine that last question first.  Perhaps one day I will answer the other questions.  If you ask nicely! 😉

How fast does smell travel?  I’d say it’s directly correlated to how hungry you are.  But, is it real?  Does smell travel?  The speed of sound is 761.2 miles per hour; The speed of light is 186,282 miles per SECOND.  But, smell, I profess, is dependent on a separate force to get it to your nostrils.  It could be the wind.  A draft.  A change of air pressure causing the air currents to shift.

But, I think that smell does move on it’s own. And it moves in a readily defined formula, just as the speed of sound and the speed of light do.  But, it’s measured on a different scale.  Perhaps it’s related to the temperature of the scent.  Is perfume hot or cold?  I’d say it’s cold.  For when used far too liberally, if the wearer stands still for too long, just as matter changes state when it cools (from gas ==> solid ==> liquid) a puddle will form.  Farts, on the other hand, are hot.  They seem to travel fast, in massive waves, like a tsunami, devastating everything and everyone in their paths.

Does the speed of smell vary?

Doppler EffectThere’s the Doppler Effect to consider.  As the source of the smell moves it leaves behind a wake.  The Doppler Effect causes the received frequency of a source (how it is perceived when it gets to its destination) to differ from the sent frequency if there is motion that is increasing or decreasing the distance between the source and the receiver. This effect is readily observable as variation in the pitch of sound between a moving source and a stationary observer. Imagine the sound a race car makes as it rushes by, whining high pitched and then suddenly lower. Vrrrm-VROOM. The high pitched whine is caused by the sound waves being compacted as the car approaches you, the lower pitched VROOM comes after it passes you and is speeding away. The waves are spread out.  Let me illustrate with a picture:

But, does it apply to smell?  Can you outrun the speed of smell?  Let’s learn from this video if it’s possible:

What does this all come down to in regards to Chinese food (or food of any kind?)  Sell the sizzle and the smell!  The sizzle is energy that a smell will hitchhike upon and bring those mouthwatering aromas to your nose, whet your appetite, and titillate your taste buds.

What are your thoughts?  Please post a comment.

Humbly submitted for your consumption,

Mee Magnum  (“Chop!  Chop!”)

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