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“Ew,” my friends would tell me when I’d try to describe it.

But breathing him in was powerful and delicious, and I liked the idea that his scent spoke just to me.

It’s also a highly social sense, linked to memory, emotions and interactions with other people—encouraging us to draw closer or stay away.

The nose also deserves credit for much of our pleasure, especially when it comes to another of our chemical senses: taste.

Catch a whiff of cookies baking, and you might suddenly be struck by a memory of mom. Smelling a snack is simple compared to sniffing another member of the our species.

Animals secrete pheromones, a distinct cocktail of chemicals that, in very small doses, have the power to influence how those animals respond to one another.

“The underlying theory is that you somehow select immune compatibility in a mate,” says Noam Sobel, an expert in olfaction and professor of neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.“So much of we think of as taste is really smell,” says Richard Doty, director of the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center.When we smell and chew something, like a chocolate chip cookie, odor molecules travel to the back of the nose, where they dissolve into mucus and bind to olfactory receptor cells.Those receptors rocket the smell directly to the brain, a much quicker route than other senses take.As a result, smell can trigger thoughts and behaviors very quickly.

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