Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Case of the Mysterious Maple Smell

It could have been worse.

It could have been really bad. Foul. Putrid. Noxious.

Instead, New York City smelled like breakfast. A tasty pancakes and waffles breakfast. Which evidently was enough for concerned citizens to take to the phones and dial 311. And this was in 2005.

Three years and some months later, scientists from two states, NJ and NY, cooperated on the investigation along with the Department of Environmental Protection. Is it just me, or does it seem ironic that when it comes to tracking suspicious pleasant odors, our agencies have no problems playing nice, but when we have to share information on, oh, I don't know—possible terrorist activity—that spirit of cooperation is itself a mystery?

So, playing nicely together, the scientists plowed through chemical registries, air samples, weather reports and 311 call logs, and found the culprit—a factory in NJ that, among other things, processes fenugreek seeds. Oddly, according to Newsday, the factory, Frutarom, "slammed down the phone on a reporter who called for comment." Now that is suspicious.

Oh, you want to know what fenugreek seeds are?

Wikifact has it that fenugreek is both an herb and a spice (a blog for another day), and is often used in the US to mimic maple flavor, as in artificial maple syrup products. Well, duh.

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