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Alcohol Can Actually Sharpen Your Sense of Smell

Jul 24, 2014 05:21 PM EDT

Despite what we may think of alcohol, researchers have found that the traditionally sense-dulling compound actually sharpens human sense of smell - at least when drank in moderation.

A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Behavioral Brain Research details how researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Edith Wolfson Medical Center in Israel determined that human smell sensitivity can actually be boosted with the consumption of alcohol.

To determine this, researchers had 20 volunteers smell three different liquids, two of which were the same, and one of which was different.

In the initial test, the participants were given two seconds to smell each liquid and then say which was not like the others. This test was repeated six times with various liquid matchups to ensure accurate readings of each participant's sensitivity to odors.

The participants were then either given 35 milliliters of vodka in grape juice or the juice alone and asked to repeat the same smell differentiation task.

In a second test, the researchers went pub crawling, asking patrons in local bars to take a scratch n' sniff test before allowing the researchers to measure their blood-alcohol content.

Interestingly, the researchers found that in both the controlled and pub-based studies, people with a moderate amount of alcohol in their blood fared much better in odor differentiation tests, compared to people with no alcohol in their systems.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that too much alcohol in the blood severally hampered a drinker's ability to smell. Whether this is because of an actual dampening of the sense or merely a loss of focus, however, remains to be seen.

According to the authors of the study, they now hope to determine why exactly this occurs through studying brain scans in future studies.

This could potentially reveal why some culinary techniques are the way they are. Cooking with wines  and other alcohols, even when largely burned away, may help contribute to making a meal smell more rich. Similarly, this could explain why many quality brewers emphasize having a thick head on their beers - the head serving as a mechanism that delivers the aroma of the beverage.

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