The Guardian：Our Sensory Connection with Food (9)
Asifa Majid, a professor of psychology at the University of York and a leading expert on olfactory language,
has said that smell used to be considered a "mute sense"
compared with sight because English speakers have far fewer words for describing smells than they do for colours.
But Majid's field work has shown that for certain hunter-gatherer communities, smells can be named as easily as colours.
Among the nomadic Seri community in Mexico for example, speakers have different words to distinguish between the specific smell of sea lion,
the smell of spoiled beans, the smell of burned beans, the smell of cooking immature green sea turtle and the smell of rancid honey.
For the Seri, this rich smell scape is a crucial part of everyday life.
By contrast, someone living in London or New York today might smell the burned beans just as potently as the Seri,
but have no word for the particular way it smelled beyond "yuck".
As Majid writes: "In English, a stink is a stink is a stink."
We sometimes make fun of wine writers for describing the perfume of different wines in such pretentious terms ("a bouquet of liquorice" or "topnotes of gooseberry"),
but similes are often the only way we can describe smells with any precision in English because our odour vocabulary is so limited.
Long after the decline of hunter-gathering, however, selecting food continued to be deeply sensual.
The historian Madeleine Ferrières has described the order in which a buyer would traditionally use his or her senses when buying food at a medieval food market in France.
The first task was to smell, because it was common knowledge that "everything that stinks, kills".
Next came close looking, to confirm that the food really was as fresh as it seemed.
The next sense was touch, taking the food in the hand to gauge its weight and assess its quality.
Finally, a buyer might taste a little of the food to determine whether the produce really was fit to eat.
In the French civil code, consumers had a right to touch and taste a sample of the food before they committed to buying it.
A sensory approach to food shopping continues to be normal to some degree wherever there are open-air food markets.
Traditionally, to test whether a watermelon was ripe, Chinese consumers would tap on it.
Ripe melons make a hollow sound.