Among the many questions that keep scientists awake at night, the most important are also the hardest to pin down. Does dark energy exist? Is global climate change irreversible? Do the armpit funks of men and women smell different?
The jury is still out on the first two, but at last we have an answer to that last one.
Turns out, sweaty men smell like cheese while sweaty women smell like onions:
The team found that the women’s armpit sweat contained relatively high levels of an odourless sulphur-containing compound – 5 milligrams per millilitre of sweat versus 0.5 milligrams in men. When the researchers mixed this compound in the lab with bacteria commonly found in the armpit, the bugs turned it into a thiol – a previously discovered odour from armpits that is akin to onion.
“The more sulphur precursor we added, the more intense was the malodour,” says Starkenmann, whose team’s results appear in Chemical Senses . Bacterial enzymes turn the otherwise odourless precursor into the malodour.
The men, meanwhile, had relatively high levels of an odourless fatty acid which turned into a cheesy odour when exposed to the same types of bacteria.
There remains some doubt that these properties are universal, since the study did not account for diet or genetic background. Also, the subjects studied were all from Switzerland, which explains why I feel the urge to yell “FONDUE!” when I’m banging Swiss supermodels. OK yeah that never happens, but you could imagine, right?
Men smell of cheese and women of onions [New Scientist]