Ionone (You're turning violet, Violet!)

It is no secret that I enjoy smelly compounds... a lot. Here's a short list of what I seem to have covered at this blog (hits for "stinky" or "smell"). I'm sure I missed some I've already written up. If I haven't covered your favorite, post a request!


Nice-smelling (or at least inoffensive):

Today, alpha-Ionone - a violet odorant.


Being one of the first people to synthesize an odorant that simulates something from Nature must have felt absolutely magical.

Check out the entry on violet (which mentions ionones) at Indieperfumes, a site I hadn't seen before today. It looks pretty great at first glance.

International Flavors and Fragrances (a catalog in which you can spend quite some time; see also Flavornet) describes it as "Woody, Dry, Fruity, Raspberry." I love reading commercial fragrance materials - they read like serious chemical catalogs with structures, flashpoint, molecular weight, and the like... then you get to hear the sniffing notes. If only Aldrich warned you about something other than "Stench!" or "Lachrymator!"


I always imagine those labels being shouted to me in this voice ever since I saw the cartoons.


More like this

Another member of the unusual collection of decent-smelling thiols (take a look at the previous entries on diallyl sulfide and ethyl thiolactate) is furfuryl mercaptan: Furfuryl mercaptan smells of coffee. You'd expect it to smell awful, but it doesn't. Fragrance and flavor people talk about this…
Previously, I covered ethyl thiolactate, which is one of those oddly sweet smelling thiols (like grapefruit mercaptan). Ethyl lactate also smells nice. Ethyl lactate is the ester of ethanol and lactic acid - Wikipedia claims it's biocompatible, because, after all, you have ethanol and lactate in…
These are rare enough that I'm surprised every time I see one. It's a very simple molecule, that apparently makes its way into certain fruit flavorings: ethyl thiolactate. As you probably have guessed by the numerous references to it, I love the flavor and fragrance field. I don't think I could…
This is one that will be familiar to anyone who works in chemistry, but I was a bit surprised to see it the first time I went into a lab. Certain compounds, called esters, can be prepared from an acid and an alcohol (usually a carboxylic acid). They are ubiquitous in the flavor and fragrance…

Can you please do an entry on carbon disulfide. I think it has a highly disagreeable odour reminiscent of old, sweaty socks.

The nicest compound I have ever smelt is 4-methyl-5-ethoxyoxazole.


It looks like you have missed out part of the molecule ... top right corner?

For really smelly molecules, one needs to check out isonitriles... kind of expensive to buy (although t-butyl isonitrile and benzyl isonitrile aren't that bad), but boy do they smell bad. They've been called the "Godzilla of odors." Aromatic isonitriles smell particularly nasty to me :)

By BlazingDragon (not verified) on 13 Jul 2007 #permalink

Can you please do post on sodium cyanoborohydride? It smells dreadfully awful.

By Graduate_Soon (not verified) on 13 Jul 2007 #permalink

My favorite smelly compound is diphenylamine. Its odor is difficult to describe but very pleasant. The compound also has some interesting uses, e.g., as a redox indicator.

I understand that the Guinness Book lists butyl seleno-mercaptan as the smelliest chemical compound; perhaps you could do that? (Selenium *and* a mercaptan--horrors!)

On a more pleasant note, allow me to recommend C. Howard's Violet candy. Unsurprisingly, it tastes like violets, but it's a bit of a strange sensation to taste a flower, although quite a nice one.

Speaking of flowers, I had one of those chocolate bars with lavender in a while ago. Also highly recommended.

How about pentanoic acid? Its scent shall be forever etched in my mind since someone spilled it all over the floor of the organic chemistry lab one year...

Kinda like parmesan cheese on steroids