“A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness, this unmistakable smell is as much a part of the book as its contents.”
Have you ever noticed how new books smell different from old books? This is because the pages of old books contain higher levels of lignin and other compounds. As these degrade, they release volatile organic compounds which reach our noses as the sweet, musky aroma of vanilla, almond, or chocolate, often mingling with smells absorbed from the book’s environment, like smoke or cat dander.
Matija Strlič and Cecilia Bembibre from University College London have developed a technique to sniff the gases given off by old books to capture their scent, and help monitor the health of the books for preservation purposes. The library of aromas they are collecting could also one day be used for multi-sensory experiences in museums or galleries. “As a society living at this point in time, which smells do we want our kids to inherit?” Bembibre says.