Christmas Chemistry. What does Christmas smell like?

Christmas is just around the corner. When November comes, some people start taking out cartons full of Christmas decorations, while others get upset with Santa commercials and Christmas hits that are on repeat everywhere. Most people who celebrate Christmas find this time much busier than usual and therefore more stressful.

Published: 25-11-2022

Although Christmas fever gets to everyone, once you smell the real scent of Christmas, the world becomes a better and more beautiful place…

But where does the scent of Christmas really come from? How do we physically sense the spirit of Christmas? Let’s find out!

Scent of the forest

A green Christmas tree that smells like a forest… Offering notes of resin, forest, Christmas, the scent is so familiar and so much awaited all year long.  This wonderful Christmas aroma is characteristic of coniferous trees such as pines, firs and spruces.  We owe this much-loved scent of the Christmas tree to an organic compound called α-pinene, found in tree resin. It is a hydrocarbon from a group called terpenes. It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It improves memory and effectively assists the immune system in preventing cancer. It also serves as an effective insecticide.

Christmas Eve carp

In Central Europe, it is hard to imagine a Christmas Eve dinner without carp. Whether fried, jellied or baked in sour cream, it is an undisputed highlight of the Christmas Eve dinner table. Its characteristic earthy scent comes from an organic compound called geosmin. It is also found in red beets, and therefore in the red borscht we all love. You might be interested to know that you can smell the substance also after heavy summer rain, especially following a dry spell. Humans are capable of noticing the smell of geosmin even when its concentration is only 5 molecules per trillion. The characteristic smell of geosmin can be easily eliminated with vinegar.

Christmas spices

Christmas time is also associated with the smell of cloves. Their specific aroma is due to a substance called eugenol. It is classified into a group of terpene derivatives called terpenoids. These, in turn, are found in turpentine. Eugenol comes in the form of an oily liquid. It is characterised not only by its specific scent but also by anaesthetic and antiseptic properties.  This is why it is used in dentistry. Combined with zinc, it forms a paste used for filling dental cavities. It can also be used for disinfecting them.

Cinnamal, or cinnamaldehyde, is the main ingredient of cinnamon, a spice we all know so well. Its scent is also characteristic of Christmas kitchen. In addition to its antibacterial properties, cinnamon is a very effective stimulator of lipid metabolism. It supports fat burning, thus helping you lose those excess kilograms. Just the right spice for the Christmas table!

Citrus notes

If you consider adding any fruit to your Christmas diet, you should give citrus fruits a try! Juicy and fragrant oranges  are a fantastic break from heavy dishes full of calories. Citrus fruits owe their intense scent to limonene, which belongs to the terpene group. It is the compound responsible for making the oil extracted from orange peels flammable. Limonene supports your body’s defence mechanisms against cancer. It is used for the production of food, cosmetics, detergents and paints.

Christmas confectionery

Who doesn’t just love vanilla desserts and vanilla-scented Christmas baked goods? You should know that vanilla is contained in vanilla sugar, while vanillin sugar contains vanillin in its composition. Vanillin is one of the aroma compounds contained in vanilla. In addition to its fragrance and flavour, vanilla offers a number of health benefits. It relaxes smooth muscles, regulates metabolism, and relieves rheumatic and degenerative pain.

Another scent that brings Christmas to mind is the fragrance of marzipan. Marzipan is simply a sweet confectionery paste obtained from roasted almonds, sugar and almond oil. The flavour and fragrance of marzipan come from benzaldehyde, which is formed from amygdalin contained in bitter almonds. It is the simplest aromatic aldehyde used in the pharmaceutical industry but also in the production of perfume and dyes. A cheaper substitute for marzipan is persipan, which contains ground apricot or peach kernels and sugar.

Christmas is one of the most festive holidays. Whatever you believe in, everyone gets carried away by the magic of the festivities. And everyone has their own way to do so. Some people opt for a lavish Christmas menu, while others try to find the perfect Christmas tree and decorate their homes with countless lights. Yet other people cannot wait to unwrap their gifts and take great pleasure in giving presents to their loved ones.

One thing is certain. Christmas chemistry works! It helps us and gives us all the best things in life.

Let’s be together this Christmas!

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