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Careers With Strong Olfactory Senses

by Fred Decker, studioD

An unusually good sense of smell can be a liability if your workplace is filled with foul odors. However, several careers are well suited to people with unusually strong olfactory senses. A keen sense of smell usually corresponds to a sensitive palate, and people with both gifts can choose from a range of intriguing professions.


Perfumers employ their sense of smell to create or refine perfumes and other consumer products. It's a surprisingly technical field, and many perfumers start with degrees in fields such as organic chemistry. Skilled perfumers can draw from thousands of natural and artificial scents to create pleasant aromas. Aside from perfumes and colognes, perfumers lend their skills to scented products from shaving cream and lipstick to air fresheners and cleaning products. France's Institut Supérieur International Du Parfum, De La Cosmétique Et De L'aromatique Alimentaire, or ISIPCA, trains most of the top "noses" working in the fashion fragrance industry.

Winemakers, Brewers and Distillers

If you have a passion for wine and spirits, your unusually keen olfactory senses might help you make your mark as a winemaker, brewer or distiller. All three professions are equal part art and science, requiring a master's understanding of the chemistry involved but also an artist's grasp of the nuances of flavor and bouquet. Deciding just the right time to separate the grape juice from the skins, or selecting precisely the correct variety of hops for your artisanal India Pale Ale, is something that relies more on your nose than a science textbook.

Tasters and Journalists

Reviewing books is both easier and more enjoyable that creating them, and the same holds true for tasting wines, spirits and other food and beverage products such as tea, coffee and chocolate. Major distribution deals hang on the quality of a vintage or wine or a new spirit, and companies employ skilled tasters to evaluate their quality. Coffee and tea company tasters "cup" crops from all over the world to create their employers' signature blends, and chocolate buyers play the same role in the baking and confectionery business. If that's too soulless and corporate for you, you could consider reviewing or writing about wines, spirits and other beverages for popular magazines or websites.

Chefs and Sommeliers

Skilled chefs rely heavily on their senses of taste and smell to create new dishes, combining ingredients in familiar or audaciously different ways to create the effect they want. A keen sense of smell is crucial for detecting degrees of doneness, or knowing how much is enough when you're adding herbs or other flavoring ingredients. Matching those dishes to appropriate wines is the work of sommeliers, who develop their palates by tasting thousands of wines over the course of a career. A masterful sommelier can make a meal memorable by finding the perfect pairing to bring out the quality of a dish.

About the Author

Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

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