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Who Knew - The Armpit of America Smells Delicious.
February 5, 2009 9:33 AM   Subscribe

Manhattan maple syrup smell mystery solved, finally.
posted by Lutoslawski (87 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sweet!
posted by exogenous at 9:36 AM on February 5, 2009


So disappointing. I was secretly hoping that the foreboding smells were actually signaling another Great Molasses Flood.
posted by billysumday at 9:36 AM on February 5, 2009


now, if they could definitively clear up the foots in seekers that wash ashore near Vancouver two of the most prominent modern mysteries (that don't involve missing blonds) shall be solved.
posted by edgeways at 9:38 AM on February 5, 2009


The Happening would have been improved if the attacks were signaled by the onset of a mysterious maple-syrup smell.

Then again, just about anything would have helped.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:39 AM on February 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


This must surely be the first time in history that a mysterious smell has been laid at the feet, so to speak, of New Jersey.
posted by DU at 9:39 AM on February 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also, my first instinct on reading about this "fenugreek" was to head to YouTube to see what it smelled like.
posted by DU at 9:40 AM on February 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


Well, I didn't think it was Northrax.
posted by wobh at 9:41 AM on February 5, 2009


I wish I'd been there to see if I'd have picked it out as fenugreek, which I don't love. Great story
posted by theora55 at 9:42 AM on February 5, 2009


do not read the google ads below this story...your yearning for pancakes will disappear instantly...
posted by HuronBob at 9:42 AM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


god i miss new york...l.a. never smells like anything but hookers and failure.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:42 AM on February 5, 2009 [13 favorites]


Most excellent news.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:43 AM on February 5, 2009


Our long national nightmare is finally over!
posted by diogenes at 9:43 AM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


So it doesn't look like they plan to do anything about it. All those complaining residents won't really get much from their complains, I suppose.

Here we have a plant that alternately smells like tuna and fake cheese. I think I'd prefer the maple syrup.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 9:44 AM on February 5, 2009


I was walking in the East Village with my friends when I pointed out this smell (my interpretation was that it smelled like "donuts"). Everyone told me I was insane, and they didn't smell anything. Imagine my satisfaction when it was all over the news the following day.
posted by orville sash at 9:44 AM on February 5, 2009


I still blame Canada.
posted by grounded at 9:46 AM on February 5, 2009


Is this the smell that is occasionally referenced in 30 Rock? I guess the Midwest, like the rest of the world, gets most of what we know of New York from TV.
posted by Science! at 9:47 AM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was all excited at first. A mystery! Intrigue! Maple syrup!

But... to find out the strange smell came from Jersey? Hell, I could've told you THAT. So goes the old joke..
I was on a date with a girl who said "Kiss me where it smells..." so I drove her to Jersey
I'm a West Coast guy, myself, but don't all the funky smells come from Jersey?
posted by revmitcz at 9:47 AM on February 5, 2009


Fun Fact: Nursing women sometimes take fenugreek to boost their milk production, and it makes them smell like IHOP.
posted by padraigin at 9:50 AM on February 5, 2009


Maple syrup sounds nice. All we get here in London is a manure smell which has been traced to Dutch farmers.
posted by vacapinta at 9:50 AM on February 5, 2009


Fenugreek is also used in assisting lactation. If you take it at the volume prescribed, your pee smells just like maple syrup.
...
fascinating, no?
posted by pomegranate at 9:52 AM on February 5, 2009


DU : Also, my first instinct on reading about this "fenugreek" was to head to YouTube to see what it smelled like.

You must be using a beta version of youtube with some features that mine doesn't have.
posted by quin at 9:52 AM on February 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


I live on the other side of the hill from the Anchor Steam brewery, and when the wind is right, my neighborhood smells very lightly of toast. It's lovely.
posted by rtha at 9:53 AM on February 5, 2009


pssst. your tags stink
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:57 AM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I once lived in an apartment in between a Hostess Wonder Bread bakery, a Sauers vanilla plant, and a tobacco warehouse. When the wind was just right it smelled like tobacco-chocolate-chip cookies.

Also: who calls to complain about maple syrup smell? I mean, I don't even know who I'd call to complain to.
posted by JoanArkham at 10:05 AM on February 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


I guess this is the right thread to ask: Did anyone else smell a baking cookies smell at the Millbrae Caltrain station? What was that?
posted by vacapinta at 10:07 AM on February 5, 2009


I smelled this a few times. It was pleasantly refreshing to smell something other than urine and old hobo.
posted by Stynxno at 10:08 AM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I smell donuts, when I ride past Puck's Donuts.
posted by everichon at 10:12 AM on February 5, 2009


now, if they could definitively clear up the foots in seekers that wash ashore near Vancouver two of the most prominent modern mysteries (that don't involve missing blonds) shall be solved.
posted by edgeways


The culprit here will also be fenugreek seed processing, mark my words.
posted by boo_radley at 10:13 AM on February 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


As someone who took a LOT of fenugreek for the aforementioned lactation effects, I can attest to the maple smell. I used to love maple syrup but after 6 months of fenugreek, I don't think I can ever have pancakes again.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:13 AM on February 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


When I first moved to Philly at the age of twelve, I asked the neighborhood kids what that horrible smell was that sometimes permeated the air on hot summer nights. They told me it was "just the plants down by the river".
I imagined all sorts of monstrous algae and putrid goo trees for the longest time, before finding out about the chemical plants.

Philly was where I first experienced the puke-stench of the ginkgo tree, so this wasn't a real stretch of the imagination.
posted by orme at 10:14 AM on February 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm not asking pomegranate to bring me pancakes anytime soon.
posted by Coyote Crossing at 10:15 AM on February 5, 2009


don't all the funky smells come from Jersey?

"The New Jersey Turnpike runs through the heart of the flavor industry, an industrial corridor dotted with refineries and chemical plants. International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), the world's largest flavor company, has a manufacturing facility off Exit 8A in Dayton, New Jersey; Givaudan, the world's second-largest flavor company, has a plant in East Hanover. Haarmann & Reimer, the largest German flavor company, has a plant in Teterboro, as does Takasago, the largest Japanese flavor company. Flavor Dynamics has a plant in South Plainfield; Frutarom is in North Bergen; Elan Chemical is in Newark. Dozens of companies manufacture flavors in the corridor between Teaneck and South Brunswick. Altogether the area produces about two thirds of the flavor additives sold in the United States."

-Excerpt From Eric Schlosser's 'Fast Food Nation'
posted by The Whelk at 10:16 AM on February 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


This required an official investigation?

On a related note I live in Burlington Ontario. In one area of the city, we have a Maple Leaf foods processing plant kitty corner with a Voortman Cookies factory. You get air that smells like the most vile offal sometimes.. the smell of carnage hits you in the face like the most palpable, egg powered farts. Then mid-day it smells like you're outside Willy Wonka's factory on cookie day...
posted by autodidact at 10:19 AM on February 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


I was going to say something similar to vacapinta, but we know where the smell is coming from in my town. Why anyone thought it would be a good idea to put the hog slaughterhouse on the upwind side of the town I live in is a question no one here seems to be able to answer.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 10:21 AM on February 5, 2009


My town smells like chocolate and some people don't like it..
posted by Bummus at 10:26 AM on February 5, 2009


I miss my old college apartment. It was across the street from an organic bakery, and in the spring, the entire street smelled like fresh wheat bread, lilacs and warm bricks. Quite possibly the greatest smell ever.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:33 AM on February 5, 2009


At different times, I lived near a tuna processing plant and an industrial brewery. The brewery was great. The tuna cannery? Not so much.
posted by zamboni at 10:37 AM on February 5, 2009


I think it's reassuring that they can figure something like this out definitively if they want to. Whenever this smell would manifest, the city would say "We don't know what it is, but we know it's not dangerous," which was a little perplexing. It makes me feel like someone competent is in charge knowing that they quietly went about figuring out the real answer and then announced it once they knew.
posted by yarrow at 10:37 AM on February 5, 2009


Fenugreek is also a plot point at the start of the third season of Six Feet Under, fwiw.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:39 AM on February 5, 2009


I used to live a couple doors from a Taco Bell. It made me acutely aware of wind direction.
posted by ardgedee at 10:40 AM on February 5, 2009


Also: who calls to complain about maple syrup smell? I mean, I don't even know who I'd call to complain to.

311. Something every town, city, and village should have.

I'd rather have the strange maple syrup smells than the death that is paper mills... or burnt popcorn of a feed plant.
posted by jeversol at 10:41 AM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have wondered for years about the similarity in aroma between maple syrup and curry! Thanks.
posted by fish tick at 10:42 AM on February 5, 2009


Every Tuesday night on the way to pub trivia with some friends I drive right by the Weetabix factory, and it always smells like warm, fresh toasted bread. Makes me hungry every time.
posted by xbonesgt at 10:46 AM on February 5, 2009


In my neighborhood, a bakery resides across the street from a funeral home, so I find that the smell of baking bread is the smell of dead bodies.
posted by troybob at 10:49 AM on February 5, 2009


This is hilarious! I've been taking fenugreek for a year, and even though I can no longer smell it on myself, my husband confirms that I still smell like maple syrup. Or molasses. Or breakfast of some kind.
posted by pinky at 10:53 AM on February 5, 2009


I used to walk past a candy factory every day on my way to work. The days when they were making Junior Mints were the best; you could smell it from blocks away.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:16 AM on February 5, 2009


Those New Yorkers don't know what they're missing. When I lived in Detroit, waking up to the lovely aroma of slaughterhouses was a true delight.
posted by Narual at 11:16 AM on February 5, 2009


When I saw this post I was immediately brought back to an old sweater of mine, actually a wool zip-up sweater that I stole from my father. It was the color of eggo waffles, in fact, and it always smelled of maple syrup. I washed it about a hundred times to no avail. I was really hoping that this post was going to reveal the source. damn.
posted by anoirmarie at 11:29 AM on February 5, 2009


Vacapinta, the Guittard Chocolate Company is located in Burlingame, which is easily within sniffing distance of Millbrae when the wind is right. I often smelled chocolate at the Millbrae BART station. Could that be the smell you're thinking of?
posted by Quietgal at 12:01 PM on February 5, 2009


I don't know, anoirmarie, fenugreek has been used to dye wool yellow for centuries, and I would imagine the maple syrup smell could persist in the wool as long as the color does...
posted by jamjam at 12:39 PM on February 5, 2009


Damn. My money was on a bunny with a pancake on its head.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:40 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Years ago my Mom and I were staying in Niagara Falls, Ontario, to visit friends and just plain have a vacation away from the men-folk. While walking along the Clifton Hill area there was this caramel-like aroma that permeated the air. We walked up and down Center Street looking for the source of the odor (because now we were craving fudge or carmel corn or something sweet), but all the candy shops were closed (it was mid-December). We eventually found where the smell was coming from - the Nabisco factory up the road. Apparently there is some sort of carmelizing that goes on in the manufacture of Shredded Wheat.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:57 PM on February 5, 2009


In Toronto there is a relatively new subdivision (near the Home Depot on St Clair) built near an existing slaughterhouse. Apparently pigs scream bloody murder when they're being slaughtered. Much to the dismay of the new residents.
posted by GuyZero at 1:15 PM on February 5, 2009


When I was a kid, my dad worked as an equipment mechanic at an artificial flavor and scent factory in New Jersey. Depending on what machines broke down, he might come home smelling like butterscotch or vanilla or even once Canoe cologne.
posted by octothorpe at 1:32 PM on February 5, 2009


If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
and leave the yellow bark dust
on your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
you could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbor to your hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler's wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
-- your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers...

When we swam once
I touched you in water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
You climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grasscutter's wife, the lime burner's daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume.

and knew

what good is it
to be the lime burner's daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in an act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of scar.


You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
peeler's wife. Smell me.

THE CINNAMON PEELER by Michael Ondaatje
posted by GuyZero at 1:36 PM on February 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Related askmes:

There's something in the air around here lately - Park Slope, Brooklyn - that smells a lot like cloves or clove oil, and a bit like pipe tobacco. It came on strong yesterday afternoon and is still drifting around today.
AromaFilter: Nice apartmemt, next to a brewery. Will there be unpleasant exhaust from the brewing?
There is a stretch of highway 25 in Wareham, MA (south of Route 195) that consistently smells like garlic, and I have no idea why or where the smell is coming from.
LosAngeles-talk: what's that strange, "burnt-toast" smell at night? [more inside]
New Yorkers: Did anyone figure out what that smell was?

Guess we can tag that last one 'resolved'.
posted by zamboni at 1:39 PM on February 5, 2009


THE GOVERNMENT SAYS IT WAS JUST AFACTORY BECUASE THATS WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO THINK
WAKE UP SHEEPLE
posted by Greg Nog at 1:48 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is the Necco factory still cranking out the smells in Cambridge, just north of MIT?
posted by beagle at 2:24 PM on February 5, 2009


I'm with grounded, I suspect Canadian terrorism. They put maple syrup on everything! Why wouldn't their poison gas also have some of the maple syrup on it?
posted by sentinel chicken at 2:28 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


l.a. never smells like anything but hookers and failure.

Mark Eitzel, is that you?
posted by mykescipark at 2:41 PM on February 5, 2009


octothorpe: was that Norda in Boonton, NJ?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:01 PM on February 5, 2009


Ooh, I was just going to ask the same thing as beagle. I only went through that neighborhood rarely, and it always took me a couple seconds of "What is that smell?" before I could identify the Necco wafers.
posted by vytae at 3:33 PM on February 5, 2009


Is this something I'd have to have a sense of smell to understand?
posted by SteveTheRed at 4:15 PM on February 5, 2009


Ah, memories. When the wind was just right in Omaha, you could smell the stockyards in South Omaha. Contrast that to the aroma of bread baking which could be smelled near the University of Oregon in Eugene.
posted by Cranberry at 4:25 PM on February 5, 2009


I have the interesting pleasure of leaving near the Slim Jim factory- we have to drive past it in order to get on the interstate-- some days it is subtle, some days it's like you shoved a newly opened package of Slim Jims right up your nose-- not that I have ever done that. This is infinitely better than the drive into Raleigh which passes by the dog food factory. There is a horribly seedy motel, "The Kings Arms" parked smack dab in front of the factory. I always wonder what it is like to fall asleep to that smell.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:35 PM on February 5, 2009


Aunt Jemima priced out of your reach in the economic downturn? Get a bag of dirt-cheap fenugreek at your bulk food source, grind it in your coffee grinder (clean thoroughly after), and cook it up in some heavy sugar-water till it goops up. And don't tell me I'm anti-Jemima. You can fill her endearing likeness with this shit if you want.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 5:45 PM on February 5, 2009


Must be a relief to know it's merely fenugreek, and not some cancerous chemical.

There's a brewery nearby that roasts hops. Ugh.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:01 PM on February 5, 2009


If you see something, say something.
If you suspect anything, do everything.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 6:02 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Back in 2005... a number of agencies...had investigated the scent and found nothing toxic or terrorism-related.

What does it say about us when we associate the smell of maple syrup with terrorism?
posted by Dr. Send at 6:18 PM on February 5, 2009


What does it say about us when we associate the smell of maple syrup with terrorism?

Well, MeFi thought it was Army PsyOps, not terrorism. Totally different.
posted by zamboni at 6:28 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's a brewery nearby that roasts hops. Ugh.

That's not a brewery; that's a Budweiser factory.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:30 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I was an urchin, a bitter aroma often assaulted my neighborhood early in the day, emanating from a nearby factory. But later on, when that chewing gum plant had finished the production of the gum base and started adding flavorings, the whole place was suffused with a bright scent of tutti frutti bubblegum.
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 6:55 PM on February 5, 2009


Is the Necco factory still cranking out the smells in Cambridge, just north of MIT?

Sadly, no. If it's any comfort, the mini nuclear power plant is still just down the street.

To add my smell-related memories: I once went rock climbing in Golden, Colorado. Right above the Coors brewery. It was a bit surreal. I'm into beer, but not that beer.
posted by A dead Quaker at 6:58 PM on February 5, 2009


Fenugreek is also used in assisting lactation. If you take it at the volume prescribed, your pee smells just like maple syrup.

See, now I'm wondering if fenugreek would make my semen taste like maple syrup.
posted by rodgerd at 7:19 PM on February 5, 2009


Maybe it's making malt, then. Either way, it's a scent that is briefly appealing, and then quickly vulgar.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:38 PM on February 5, 2009


It must be malt, because hops smell delicious. (Plus, one doesn't roast them, as far as I know.)
posted by neckro23 at 7:55 PM on February 5, 2009


one doesn't roast them, as far as I know.

I was going to call shenanigans on fff too, but apparently it's a thing.

Still, unless fff lives next to the industrial uberbrewery of doom, it's probably just the mash. What does it smell like?
posted by zamboni at 8:25 PM on February 5, 2009


Also, hellblent's roommate wins the Mrs Butterworth No-prize:

My roommate just reminded me that there are plenty of flavor factories in North Jersey. Could be a Willy Wonka wannabe scientist doing an impromptu release of a new artificial almond scent. or something.
posted by hellbient at 2:42 PM on October 29, 2005

posted by zamboni at 8:33 PM on February 5, 2009


I fully approve of my tax dollars being spent on Official Maple Syrup Smell Task Forces™. God, how I love this ridiculous city.
posted by elizardbits at 8:54 PM on February 5, 2009


My wife says it's barley (?!) I'll say it's the malt.

I have no idea what they're doing. I just know it smells really good for about three seconds, and then I wish I didn't have to smell it any more. It's kind of like Ovaltine: first sip is fine, but goddamn if it doesn't turn disgusting but quick.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:22 PM on February 5, 2009


That's not a brewery; that's a Budweiser factory.

I grew up near the smell of "hops-roasting factory" (or malt, or whatever the hell that brewery smell is).

I hated it as a child, never got used to it, hate it now. Horrible.
posted by rokusan at 1:32 AM on February 6, 2009


The problem is with the Greeks. As with any right-thinking citizen, I abhor the castigation of any minority. All cultures are equally worthwhile, in my opinion. That is why my lasagna (my own recipe) is so popular; the secret is in the artful mix of traditional ingredients (pasta and tomato sauce) with my own secret blend of exotic influences; basil, oregano, virgin's blood, motor oil, olive oil, sweat, dried pumpkin, dried raisins, eye of newt, cinnamon, magnets, cones, cylinders and spheres. A tasty concoction, certainly, but altogether unpalatable when topped with Greek influence. Or should I say, fenugreek.

In my humble opinion, the worst thing that ever happened to fine cuisine was the overthrow of the Greeks by the Fenus.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:48 AM on February 6, 2009


Great, now they can worry about the "mysterious" urine smell on the Subway.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:36 AM on February 6, 2009


fff: You're both right! They're likely mashing, which is where you turn malt (barley and otherwise) into hot porridgey beer soup, making lots of grainy/malty odours. They drain tasty beer juice out of the mash, then boil that up to make beer.
posted by zamboni at 7:25 AM on February 6, 2009


Back in high school, I did a co-op stint with the local public access TV channel. One of the things we filmed was local hockey games, often highschool teams.

Let me tell you, walking out of the arena in Niagara Falls--across the street from the Kraft factory--and being assaulted by a wall of Eau de Kraft Dinner is an experience best avoided.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:32 PM on February 7, 2009


In Toronto there is a relatively new subdivision (near the Home Depot on St Clair) built near an existing slaughterhouse. Apparently pigs scream bloody murder when they're being slaughtered. Much to the dismay of the new residents.

Those are the semi-detached houses on St. Clair, near the Gunn Loop. You definitely can't help but notice the smell of the nearby chicken slaughterhouses* when you walk around the streets of the development, but the pigs are finally silent, Clarice, as the meat plant burned down a couple of years ago.

* Luckily, the general whiff de mort is pretty localized. Once you go a little further east to Keele, there are no olfactory clues remaining whatsoever. A friend of mine wasn't so lucky. Years ago, in the dead of winter, she moved into a cheap, cute apartment at Symington and Dupont. She knew the chicken plant was next door, but she thought she could tolerate it. Then spring came. She moved.
posted by maudlin at 9:22 PM on February 10, 2009


There used to be a rendering plant near this town. On a hot summer day the smell was horrible beyond description. I literally can not express how bad it was.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:27 PM on February 10, 2009


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