The 20 Smells That Are the Most Recognizable

Daniel Ganninger
June 10, 2024
Smelling a perfume

When you breathe in and inhale air, odor molecules bind to receptors located in the nose, and then signals are sent to the brain where that information is processed. It’s a highly complex process that results in memories of odors or certain reactions to odors we find pleasant or offensive. The ability to discern odors using our sense of smell is so complex that a study in the journal Science reported that humans can differentiate around an average of one trillion smells.

But what are the most recognizable smells? According to a study from Yale University in 1982 (there hasn’t been a more recent study looking at this), 200 people identified 80 common aromas. The three most recognizable smells were coffee, peanut butter, and fascinatingly, Vicks VapoRub, the camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oil concoction that is slathered on the throat and chest. The list of the 20 most recognizable smells is below, and even though the study is almost 40 years old, these smells would probably fall in line about the same even today.

20 Most Recognizable Smells

1. Coffee
 2. Peanut butter
 3. Vicks VapoRub
 4. Chocolate
 5. Wintergreen oil
 6. Baby powder
 7. Cigarette butts
 8. Mothballs
 9. Dry cat food
 10. Beer
 11. Ivory bar soap
 12. Juicy Fruit gum
 13. Orange
 14. Cinnamon
 15. Lemon
 16. Tuna
 17. Banana
 18. Crayons
 19. Cheese
 20. Bleach

Sources: Science Magazine, Vicks, Crayola