Supermarket food smells and tastes fragranced

Since about 2012, my wife and I have been noticing a strong fragrance from certain foods purchased in the supermarket. The scent is a bit floral, a bit like dryer sheets, and a bit like soap. It doesn’t seem natural and is perhaps a chemical. I have no idea as to the origin of the smell. I’ve searched the web and haven’t found an answer as to the origin of the aroma. My wife and I have started calling it “essence,” for lack of a better term. I’m not against fragrance, but I’d certainly like my food to taste as it should.

What we’d observed about the “essence”:

  • There is a strong correlation with products that have certain plastic wraps or plastic wrappers. I’m not sure which plastic wraps but we don’t have the issue at home with name brand plastic wraps.
  • Breads and pastries seem highly susceptible to absorbing the taste of this “essence.”
    It’s really hard to remove the essence.
  • Chicken and beef that has been exposed to the “essence” still tastes of it after washing. Grilling and roasting doesn’t kill the “essence.”
  • Certain stores have more “essence.” Locally, our Randall’s has the most products with this flavor. HEB products have a moderate amount of “essence.” Whole Foods seems to have the least percentage of affected products.
  • Paper products seem to be able to be “infected.” Lots of labels on wine bottles and labels on beer bottles smell quite strong. In fact, I’m afraid to cellar new wine in the same space as prized bottles.
  • We sometimes taste it in restaurant food. Sushi rolls often have “essence.” Perhaps it’s because they are rolled in “essence” plastic wrap before cutting.
  • “Essence” flour has the flavor remain after baking. I’ve had to toss numerous things I’ve baked because of the strong flavor.

Theories of the origin of “essence”:

  • A certain type of plastic seems like it might be a source of the smell.
  • Certain ink used to print on products might also be another source.
  • Maybe my wife and I are supper smellers. Perhaps we’re the olfactory X-Men, but that seems unlikely.

Things I’ve ruled out:

  • I don’t believe it’s any pesticide in the pyrethroid family. These are the most commonly used in pest control. Perhaps it’s a fumigant, but I’ve been unfortunate enough not to have sampled those smells.
  • It doesn’t seem to be the product’s proximity to detergents, soaps, etc. The smell is similar but different than these products.

As a scientifically minded person, this has driven be crazy. Smell is a difficult thing for a laymen to measure. Chemical analysis seems difficult and potentially expensive. That said, I certainly did not enjoy my “essence” steak last night.

Anybody have any theories or answers? Please do chime in.

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