What makes a Rose Smell?

In the play Romeo and Juliet, Juliet asks if, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” this question motivated me to find out what makes a rose smell the way it does. Roses are iconic, and so I thought it would be interesting to see what makes them tick so to speak. small_red_rose

According to Compound Interest the roses smell is mostly derived from the compound Rose oxide. Rose oxide was obviously named after the flower itself, and is an organic compound. Rose oxide is fairly easy for the human nose to recognize even at quantities as low as 5 parts per billion.  The compound also gives flavor to some fruits.

Though there are of course several compounds that go into making each individual rose smell, rose oxide is the chemical used to create rose oil and is so closely tied to the rose smell that the compound was actually named for the flower itself.

Pub Chem, an open chemistry database, states that the molecular weight of Rose oxide is about 154.24932 g/mol and provides the following picture of the compound.

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In order to identify the compounds that make the rose smell scientists distil the flower and then use gas chromatography on the resulting oils, according to the Journal of Chemical Education.

The Royal Society of Chemistry  writes that rose oxide was discovered in 1960.

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An article published in International Immunopharmacology showed that rose oxide while having a distinct smell also has uses as an anti-inflammatory agent.  The research into Rose oxide as a pharmaceutical agent is fairly new, but it has been used as an odorant for decades.  Which makes one wonder what other compounds humans are using for their aroma quality hat may have other beneficial properties.

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