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For a long time, I’ve heard that cyanide smells like almonds, and I decided to see if that was actually true!
NOTE: After posting this video, I got a few messages from people saying that in their experience, cyanide DOES smell like almonds. So, I spent an hour tonight doing some tests, and I think the results are interesting. I did some direct comparisons and the smell of cyanide is distinctly different from the smell of almonds. However, if I EAT the almonds, there is sometimes a faint taste of cyanide. I think this is because sweet almonds still have a very small amount of amygdalin in them, which can release HCN. I don’t think it’s enough to smell in open air, but in your mouth it can be concentrated enough to be detected at the back of the nose. It’s subtle, but it is definitely part of the flavor profile. So, while I still don’t think it’s accurate to say that it smells like almonds, for some people, it might be similar to the taste. To make that connection though, the person needs to a) be able to smell HCN and b) be particularly aware of that part of the flavor.
I can smell the HCN, but I never noticed it in the flavor of almonds, so I didn’t make the connection. I was even looking for a similarity and eating almonds at the same time, but never noticed it. It was only when I became very familiar with the smell of HCN that I started noticing it in almonds. What’s interesting too, is that now after noticing it, I feel like I’ve started to associate the smell with almonds. It’s no longer just a "chemical" smell and it feels more almondy. However, on the flip side, I feel like almonds taste worse and are more "chemically."
But either way, I still don’t think that saying it smells like almonds or bitter almonds is accurate or helpful. However, based on the messages I’ve received, some people are naturally associating cyanide with almonds (sometimes without knowing that this was even a thing and not even knowing they were smelling cyanide). This has piqued my interest and I think it could be fun to get to the bottom of this and to do a trial with a lot more people.
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