Monday, February 27, 2012

Why does coffee smell fishy?

I have often thought that coffee smells fishy sometimes, as in literally like fish, particularly canned tuna (one of the few foods I have always and truly hated, largely due to the smell). I like the smell of coffee, and it's never an overwhelming fishy smell (like when my mom, despite my brother's and my howls, would make tuna casserole), just a faint whiff in there with the regular coffee aromas. I first noticed it on someone's coffee breath, and afterwards from time to time in coffee itself, usually the beans or ground coffee, not the brewed liquid.

I was just setting up the coffee for tomorrow and got that old fishy whiff, and it occurred to me that there is probably some chemical or molecule common to both coffee beans and fish (or at least canned fish). One of the things that 2+ years of perfume connoisseurship has taught me is to always trust my nose! Many of the smells I used to think I was hallucinating or imagining are right there in nature (or non-nature, as the case may be); common "ingredients" can often be confirmed with a web search. At the very least, you can find other crazy people like you who think single-malt scotch smells like Band-Aids, for example. Sure enough, I'm not the only one who thinks coffee (especially darker roasts) smells like fish. Here's a thread with some theories on the coffee-fish connection; could be the presence of Ethylmethylamine (which has a "strong ammoniacal and fishy odor").

Other weird smell/taste connections: cantaloupe and acetone (nail polish remover); raspberry and clove (there's eugenol in raspberry, much as in rose).

16 comments:

  1. I find that I've begun to associate a large & increasing number of things with coffee. Bad coffee tastes like rubber balloons. It also, sometimes, tastes "flat," a word that I find I cannot paraphrase. I always assumed that coffee is reminiscent of fish because they are both reminiscent of (different kinds of) bad breath.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've found that truffles smell like the gradual decay of one's immortal soul. I googled it though, and didn't find any connection.

    ReplyDelete
  3. S, have you been driving a lot of bad coffee?

    D, your soul smells delicious!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I don't drink coffee, but I used to grind it when I worked at a deli, and didn't get any fish particularly, I must say. The canteloupe-acetone connection I totally agree with.

    Is Dan using a topical pseudonym?

    ReplyDelete
  5. V, that was always his name before, but maybe he anticipated this post long ago! I only notice the fishy smell with certain roasts, but I also see how someone could go through life never noticing it. I'm one of those people for whom everything smells like something else (and everyone looks like someone else) -- overactive recognition engine?

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've thought that coffee had a fishy smell ever since I was a little kid when I'd smell the beans before my mom would make herself coffee, and my mom has remarked on it, too. It's good to know we weren't hallucinating. Unfortunately, the smell did nothing to stop her from making tuna noodle and tune corn casserole for family dinners too numerous to count.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, just noticed Blogger finally got with the program and I can reply to individual comments! It's good to hear that other people have noticed the fishy smell.

      I still refuse -- REFUSE! -- to eat canned tuna, though I love raw tuna.

      Delete
    2. (Now, if only they'd hit me with the smart-stick and let me figure out how to allow comments, period. ;))

      Delete
    3. Needs to happen! Have you switched to the new Blogger interface?

      Delete
    4. I smell canned tuna every time my husband brews some dark roast coffee - I generally like canned tuna and the smell - I smell it for about a minute, then it dissipates back into coffee smell again. Think I'll have coffee and a tuna snadwich for lunch!

      Delete
  7. Coffee is pretty good with chopped pickles and Miracle Whip stirred in.

    Coffee tasted flat until Renaissance Europeans discovered it. After that it tasted round.

    Fish-smelling coffee: it belongs in one of Plath's evocations of domestic hell. Fishy whiff, fishy whiff, coffee make me retch... Meanwhile there's a stink of coffee fish and baby crap...O coffee, coffee, godawful! Yucky as mud, and with a fishy whiff...To nourish the cellos of moans I eat fish--fish and coffee, the essentials, the aphrodisiac tuna...

    ReplyDelete
  8. Never picked up on the coffee and tuna connection before. A couple of others, though, that I've noticed for a long long time:

    Burning rubber and chocolate milk

    Frying fish and window putty

    Boiling broccoli and/or cauliflower, and a paper mill when you're downwind from it

    Butterscotch and Crayola crayons

    *

    @ David Grove: I think you're really onto something -- a Bad Plath poetry contest. I think it has real possibilities...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Burning rubber and chocolate milk! I'll look for that one. Sometimes iris smells like cocoa.

      A lot of people like the smell of crayons, as I understand it, but I hate it. Blech.

      The broccoli/paper mill connection is probably due to sulphur.

      Delete
  9. "Old Fishy Whiff" is the name of my new short story collection, what coincidence.

    ReplyDelete