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That's funny, Joey, I don't smell anything
May 9, 2013 5:47 AM   Subscribe

"The memory is stil with me - the most sickly and sweetish smell of rancid gasoline combined with rotten water melons, with undertones of stale sweat, pig carcass, a hint of garlic, moldy oranges, russian-made aftershave and a cheap household air freshener… its a whole package, and rather sweet one – like isonitriles or cyclopentadiene but magnified thousand times. A whiff of that thing and you feel that your nose just suffered a stroke and will hopefully die and peal off so that you never smell that thing again." A young lab tech, whose absent-mindedness in the lab gets him nicknamed "“Bořivoj” (”the one who tears down the places”), meets PhePHMe, the worst-smelling compound in the world. Things happen.
posted by escabeche (36 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
So that's what they put in Axe!
posted by flabdablet at 5:54 AM on May 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm sorry, but this is the first thing that came to mind.
posted by NoMich at 6:00 AM on May 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


> ...I guess a man skilled in art is supposed to know. (We did not).

So many wacky adventures start this way!
posted by ardgedee at 6:09 AM on May 9, 2013


Worse than butyric acid? Damn.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:09 AM on May 9, 2013


I'm sorry, but this is the first thing that came to mind.

"Smells like a used diaper filled with Indian food"... you know that's really pretty close to how I would describe the taste and smell of durian!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:23 AM on May 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Derek Lowe has been linked here before, mainly in regards to explosive and otherwise highly reactive compounds, but there are also things he won't work with because of their stenches.
posted by TedW at 6:28 AM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Really, 10th Regiment? In my experience it was more like garlic papaya onion soup, but then I had an antiseptic Western frozen version, so perhaps my first taste was...inaccurate.
posted by Mooseli at 6:38 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Recently, my wife tried this Vietnamese fermented shrimp paste, and it might have been the very worst thing I've ever smelled (including the notorious durian) - it was like a giant can of cat food left to rot for weeks in the summer heat. One spoonful was enough to make our entire house all but uninhabitable for a couple of hours.

I can't see this being that much worse.
posted by deadmessenger at 6:42 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had a terrible moment of mental disconnect during which I had to remind myself that clicking the link in the FPP would not cause the smell to appear.
posted by elizardbits at 6:52 AM on May 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


Yeah, you really don't want to spill butyric acid on your fingers. No amount of scrubbing will remove the smell.
posted by lawrencium at 6:53 AM on May 9, 2013


A couple of Texan dudes smell surströmming.
posted by AwkwardPause at 6:56 AM on May 9, 2013 [12 favorites]


deadmessenger, sounds like Belacan to me. Smells awful, but surprisingly tasty stuff. Haven't had any in years on account of not living in SE Asia anymore, but I remember liking it way better than durian.

Weirdly enough, mrs. the dief, born and bred in Canada, has never been to SE Asia, actually really likes durian. Non ironically, even.
posted by the dief at 6:56 AM on May 9, 2013


it was like a giant can of cat food left to rot for weeks in the summer heat

Yes, that's pretty much the process.
posted by flabdablet at 7:02 AM on May 9, 2013


A couple of Texan dudes smell surströmming.

That was surprisingly entertaining!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:11 AM on May 9, 2013


Once I worked in a machine shop where they sometimes made big (like 60' long and 8' dia) pressure vessels. When the welds weren't up to spec, they had to grind out the welds and do them over. On a couple of occasions the grinding produced the worst smell imaginable - like rotten fish combined with stale really strong garlic. People would open the office door and start heaving after one breath. I don't know what kinds of metal were in those welds, but some specialized welding rods are a dog's breakfast of weird elements. I never, ever want to smell anything like that again.
posted by sneebler at 7:20 AM on May 9, 2013


Now I know that if I ever go to Russia I should avoid the local aftershave.
posted by tommasz at 7:22 AM on May 9, 2013


deadmessenger, sounds like Belacan to me. Smells awful, but surprisingly tasty stuff.

This was it. My wife said the same thing; it was quite tasty once you got past the stench.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:39 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


We would put some chiral but racemic phosphine building block onto optically active binaphtyl piece derived from BINOL, and we would get BINAP-like ligands with both axial chirality and chirality on phosphorus. We would then try to separate the stereoisomers and see which one worked better in Rh and Ru-catalysed asym hydrogenations, and we would try to interconvert the stereoisomers to see how the kinetic vs thermodynamic induction control looks like, etc.

Because, I mean, what red-blooded young man doesn't want to put some chiral but racemic phosphine building block onto optically active binaphtyl piece derived from BINOL to produce BINAP-like ligands with both axial chirality and chirality on phosphorus?

Many are the days when, flush with youth and bursting with vigor, I would leap from bed before the crack of dawn and seize some optically active binaphtyl pieces. I would then around the house hooting and bellowing like a banshee, giddy with the prospect of producing BINAP-like ligands. Long after my peers were soundly asleep, I would be interconverting stereoisomers like a house on fire, sleeping only a few fitful hours before bursting forth from the bedchamber to monitor Rh and Ru-catalysed asym hydrogenations once more.

Ah, sweet youth! Back when every day seemed to be a fresh new start and the possibilities of chirality seemed limitless.
posted by Shepherd at 8:01 AM on May 9, 2013 [21 favorites]


"Vietnamese fermented shrimp paste"

They sell it a block away from here in S.F.'s Little Saigon. A little bit does wonders in Vietnamese and Thai dipping sauces for spring rolls and the like. Addictively tasty, in the right context.

(Just a very little bit, though...)
posted by markkraft at 8:03 AM on May 9, 2013


My vietnamese roomate after college used to make his own nyuc maam under the kitchen sink. It was SUPER tasty, but the problem was that your hands smelled like it for a week if you ever dipped a spring roll in it!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:15 AM on May 9, 2013


I have no idea what nyuc maam is (some sort of fermented fish sauce, perhaps?), but it immediately jumped out at me as something Curly would say to a lady when trying to be polite.
posted by TedW at 9:11 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Recently, my wife tried this Vietnamese fermented shrimp paste, and it might have been the very worst thing I've ever smelled (including the notorious durian) - it was like a giant can of cat food left to rot for weeks in the summer heat. One spoonful was enough to make our entire house all but uninhabitable for a couple of hours.

I was at a Vietnamese restaurant once at the Eden Center, an all-Viet area in Northern VA. A Viet-american guy was seated near me, with his date. She pointed at something at the menu questioningly, and he clarified that it was fermented shrimp paste. She looked aghast, and said 'you EAT that?' to which he replied 'haha, hell no, that stuff is awful!'. Which of course piqued my interest, so I had to order it myself.

Turns out it's not that bad, altho it's definitely a 'little goes a long way' kind of food. Somewhere around 'tangy' and 'pungent' with a splash of 'sour meat'. Granted, what I ordered wasn't funky enough to stink out an entire building, but I imagine that comes down to how it's prepared.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:27 AM on May 9, 2013


Once my girlfriend put a chicken in the oven to defrost. We couldn't leave it on the counter because of Raku the cat. We forgot about the chicken for several days, and then blithely went to pre-heat the oven to cook something else.

That was really something.
posted by Trochanter at 9:31 AM on May 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Long after my peers were soundly asleep, I would be interconverting stereoisomers like a house on fire, sleeping only a few fitful hours before bursting forth from the bedchamber to monitor Rh and Ru-catalysed asym hydrogenations once more.

Stereoisomers? LUXURY! Atoms? YOU were LUCKY.

When I were a lad, I had to break 't symmetry of a slowly cooling protouniverse using nothing but my bare (yet strangely achiral) hands before 'me dad came home or he'd thrash me to death with a wormhole.


And you tell kids today, and they don't believe you!
posted by lalochezia at 9:47 AM on May 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


deadmessenger: "it might have been the very worst thing I've ever smelled"

saying things like this just invites the nose-cenobites in.
posted by boo_radley at 10:17 AM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


A new one from inthepipleline: dimethylcadmium, from the always excellent milkshake (source of the FPP), from the comments:


Bunsen* had no stereovision because he blinded himself in one eye in explosion, during one attempted Me2AsCN preparation. The some compound later nearly fatally poisoned him, twice, but he recovered from semi-unconscious state and went back to work. Since they did not have fume hoods in these days and he realized the very high acute toxicity of this volatile compound posed a little problem, he resumed the research project later by doing experiments while inhaling and exhaling through a long glass pipe that was stuck through a window...


* He of the bunsen burner
posted by lalochezia at 10:47 AM on May 9, 2013


I have no idea what nyuc maam is

Sorry, its sort-of a combo of garlic, vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, and putrefied fish juice. Yes, some will use regular store-bought fish sauce, but NO! My dear roomie chose to liquify his own fish, thank you very much! Thankfully, that process was relatively sealed in it's own jars and the tru glory didn't really reveal itself until the liquidium was mixed with the above and it was all left to combine for a matter of weeks until it was time to eat it.

In all honesty, the smell remaining from these culinary exploits was actually less lasting than my Korean roommate's various pickled things (cabbages, of course, but insects, seriously?)!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:32 AM on May 9, 2013


I wonder how the Texans got the Surstromming into the States, it's illegal to import since the US considers it "rotten". Apparently you can make your own, though!
posted by WidgetAlley at 12:23 PM on May 9, 2013


These fermented agents of edible revulsion - why do some cultures have them, and others not? What is the common factor between the Scandiwegians, the Koreans and the ancient Romans? (Garum. Anyone tried it?)

I don't know of anything of that ilk in British gastronomic history, even though they're all Vikings north of Watford. The worst/best I've guzzled that originated in these fair isles was Stinking Bishop, a reasonably muscular soft cheese that has that great ammonia zap to it, although it's not really up there with the most dangerous of the French milk products, and none of them are anywhere near to the top league of mouthbombs.
posted by Devonian at 12:30 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just to make sure that Westerners don't get all uppity and consider themselves above this eating rotten stuff thing, please remember that some of the choicest delecacies of the modern Euro-Austro-American diet are dry aged steaks.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:03 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Devonian: "I don't know of anything of that ilk in British gastronomic history"

If you're going to include garum, it seems fitting to note that Worcestershire sauce is a distant relative. If you have an asian market, you can get the Thai and Japanese varieties, which are a bit more robust than Lea & Perrin's variety.
posted by boo_radley at 1:28 PM on May 9, 2013


MetaFilter: The most sickly and sweetish smell of rancid gasoline combined with rotten water melons, with undertones of stale sweat, pig carcass, a hint of garlic, moldy oranges, russian-made aftershave and a cheap household air freshener.

I'm surprised it took this long.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:52 PM on May 9, 2013


Worcestershire sauce only has anchovies in it, so it's really miles and miles away from garum. Garum was probably pretty similar to actual Thai fish sauce, though: take a whole lot of fish or fish guts, salt them, let them ferment, and bottle the juice.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:56 PM on May 9, 2013


This thread is reminding me of corpse flowers. I never got the fascination behind everyone gathering round to smell the rotting corpse flower smell every weird year that it blooms.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:24 PM on May 9, 2013


I don't know of anything of that ilk in British gastronomic history

Really? Never heard of high game?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:00 AM on May 10, 2013


org prep daily! i remember coming across this blog when reading about clandestine chemistry in re breaking bad. it (the blog) contains hidden gems. well, not 'gems' but 'more interesting than you'd expect from an org chem blog if you don't know org chem'

who is this guy, milkshake?
posted by jcruelty at 8:33 PM on May 11, 2013


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