Why Rain Smells Good But Tastes Awful

Have you ever smelled rain in the air? Before the water even starts coming down, there’s a certain smell associated with it that’s so comforting and delicious.

But have you ever wondered why that is? Why do humans love the smell of rain? And why does rain water taste so awful?

Home cook and journalist Adam Ragusea decided to explore the topic for himself, and he shared his findings with the world!

Photo: YouTube/Adam Ragusea

Consulting with perfumer and PhD candidate Harry Sherwood, Adam explored the natural components of the scent – and flavor – of rain to make more sense of it all.

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In the video below, he explains: “So, in this little bottle, I have what is probably one of your most favorite smells in the whole world. And at the same time, it’s probably one of your least favorite flavors. If I smell it, that is the smell of rain — a beautiful, fresh spring rain, the kind of rain that heralds abundance. It’s the smell of a wet garden. But if I put a little bit of it on my hand and then taste it? That is the flavor of dirt, mud, grossness. What even is this?”

Photo: YouTube/Adam Ragusea

Adam went on to speak with Harry, who described the flavor of rain as being comprised of “beetroot and cod.” Not the most appetizing pairing out there.

According to Harry and Adam, the unusual pairing is due to the chemical compounds of Geosimin, a bicyclic terpene released by bacteria.


“Chemically, it is a bicyclic alcohol and a terpene, or actually I think it’s a terpenoid because it has oxygen in it. And as is the case with many such terpenes and terpenoids from the food and drink world, we are very sensitive to this. …Geosmin is a major component of a mixture of smells known as Petrichor.…Petrichor encompasses some other smells of rain.…But arguably, the dominant smell within petrichor is Geosmin, which is not made by plants. Geosmin is made by bacteria,” Adam explained.

Harry went on to explain why it is that the smell and flavor of rain envoke such different reactions. He said: “We love it when we smell it outdoors as a signal of rain. But when we eat, for example, some river cod and it tastes muddy, it’s because we’re tasting geosmin. And most people don’t like that. …When you have tongue signals, plus nose signals, we call that flavor. That’s now well known, but your brain integrates that in a certain way that potentially gives different results in terms of emotion. So Geosmin through nose plus nothing on tongue equals good. Geosmin through nose plus salty taste or whatever equals muddy fish.”

Photo: YouTube/Adam Ragusea

Some foods that have particularly large amounts of Geosmin include beets and certain greens, like spinach. It’s the reason some foods taste like dirt!

So, if you’re ever enjoying the smell of rain and wish you could bottle it and use it as a flavor, you may want to think again.

Check out the video below:

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