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.

Leave a Comment

  • eGoh Feb 6, 2019, 2:38 pm

    Thank you all for you comments and insight. I can’t believe how frustrating it is that so few people report this issue and that it’s hard to figure out the exact cause. I’m personally leaning towards some sort of fragrance that has been added to certain plastics, but definitely not 100% sure, nor can I figure out why that would be done. I’ve even read food industry articles (and I’m not in that industry) on plastic wraps but can’t turn up any real evidence of that causes the smell/taste. Keep you comments and insights coming. Thanks!

  • Noni Feb 6, 2019, 1:50 pm

    Yes!
    I was trying to find out why and no one seems to know. But it’s comforting to know I’m not alone.
    I only eat plant based foods, so thats all the data I can provide.
    Breads. Breads have started to taste of perfume or some other odd flavor that doesn’t belong. I bought two different brands of white sour dough from a high end grocery store and they both had that weird taste.
    I bought trader Joe’s whole wheat raisin cinnamon rolls (which are more like a bagel than a cinnamon roll, no frosting) and they taste like perfume. Those rolls are very thick and if I only eat the middle part I can’t taste it. But, the outer edges taste strongly.
    Possible causes:
    Ink
    Plastic
    Someone is spraying something over the foods.

    I’m pretty sure my local natural holistic style grocery store does smudging with burnt sage because one day I came in as they opened and that’s what I smelled, plus they sell it. I doubt trader Joe’s does smudging though….

  • margaret Feb 5, 2019, 5:36 pm

    I have noticed that the sickening smell of dryer sheets seems to penetrate other products in the grocery store. I think those essences are made of petroleum products and they travel around the store and leach into anything that is wrapped in plastic. It has an affinity for other petroleum material. In particular I always can smell that fragrance on the meat and chicken that is wrapped in plastic wrap. Today I bought a gallon of Ice Mountain water and when I took a taste i had to spit it out—-tasted just like dryer sheets.

  • Olga Nov 10, 2018, 1:26 pm

    I have eaten flat bread that had a perfume taste and have not come to a conclusion as to why. If anyone know why flour would produce such a taste please let me know.

    Thank you

  • Julie Oct 30, 2018, 7:40 pm

    I just tasted the fragrance in a new box of cereal bought from dollar general. I am suspecting it is from smaller stores with dryer sheets or fragranced trash bags where the air doesn’t get turned over. My theory is the chemicals linger in the air and penetrate packaging for items with long shelf life. Maybe smell the box first. Also, we don’t use dryer sheets, fabric softener, and dye free detergent. Our noses pick up that scent much faster than those that do. I can smell it on people very strongly. I hope it is not the packaging being used – yuck! Trying to reduce chemicals – not add them in my body.

  • Robert Sawyer Oct 1, 2018, 12:08 pm

    Final update: Things kept being tasted after the backpack wash. Threw my lunch in a plastic bag in the trunk within my backpack. Tasted great, no essance.

    I have come to my final conclusion a box of inscense I keep in my car under my seat tainted my food in my passenger seat through plastic bags in ziplock bags within a backpack.

    Throwing them away.

  • Robert Sawyer Sep 26, 2018, 10:56 am

    Update- plastic bags may not be culprit. Either they tainted the backpack I use( I washed it today) or a box of incense just remembered I keep in my car may be tainting the food(the taint smells similar) on my 20 min ride to work

  • eGoh Sep 18, 2018, 8:29 pm

    Yeah, certain plastics seems to have the scent quite strong. I think some plastic bags used for breads and such also have the issue. I’ve tried to research it a bit, but don’t know why polyethylene bags would have a scent like that. Thanks for your info and detective work!

  • Robert Sawyer Sep 18, 2018, 8:25 pm

    She was disgusted. Well my mystery taste is solved. Plastic grocery bags.

  • Robert Sawyer Sep 18, 2018, 1:26 pm

    I started living on my own last month. Making my own food. Bringing it to work in plastic bags. My food has no detectable essance.

    But when I bring it to work, even in Tupperware inside the plastic grocery bag, it permeates any bread I bring, taints my rice, and lighty seasons meat.

    I can’t find anyone talking about it online, but my food work food, especially baked goods tastes like drier sheets.

    I think it’s my plastic grocery bags I use for lunch.

    I left some Walgreens cookies in a non airtight plastic tin, in a plastic grocery bag for a week. That was the first time I tasted it. It was so gross and concentrated, It stuck in my teeth and I tasted it for half an hour.

    I am making my wife confirm the taste this evening. Will report back.

  • Amber Sep 4, 2018, 6:55 pm

    I am the only one in my family that tastes this in dry foods products that we purchase from dollar general. To me, it’s such an overwhelming taste that I have thrown out entire boxes of crackers, cereal, wafers etc. My family thinks I’m crazy, my husband thinks I am lying. Also, the bags from this store harbor the ‘essence’ I have to remove them from the house, as even touching them transfers the smell to my hands. I stumbled on this article right after tossing out rice crispies, and making everyone upset. It’s strange to me that no one else tastes this, or smells this, where as it is overwhelming to me. It’s exactly what I’d imagine to be ‘the taste’ of bounce dryer sheets, or perfume floral soap.