Coke Museum creates new exhibit on the science of scent

Scent Discovery is a new exhibit at the World of Coca-Cola Museum in downtown Atlanta. Photo: The World of Coca-Cola
Scent Discovery is a new exhibit at the World of Coca-Cola Museum in downtown Atlanta. Photo: The World of Coca-Cola

Credit: The World of Coca-Cola

Credit: The World of Coca-Cola

First new exhibit in almost a decade demonstrates how aroma influences taste.

Coca-Cola understands that your nose is the doorway to powerful feelings.

Did you ever catch a whiff of a pie in the oven and get transported back to Christmas at grandma’s?

There are biological reasons for the phenomenon. The olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system, the oldest region of the brain and the area responsible for emotion and memories.

Now, Coke has decided to explore that territory, adding a new attraction to the World of Coca-Cola.

Called Scent Discovery, it is the museum’s first new permanent exhibit since 2011. It lets visitors test their scent recognition, and demonstrates how complicated the world of aroma can be.

Jacquie Wansley, communications manager for the World of Coca-Cola, said “Our aim was to help guests understand the connection between the sense of smell and the sense of taste so they could understand how the two work together. We wanted to allow them to be part scientist and part detective.”

Entering the exhibit, guests gather around a table with a surface that serves as a video screen. The perimeter is lined with plexiglas boxes, each one bearing a vessel with a perforated stopper and a squeeze bulb to help propel an aroma upward.

"Ambassadors" help guide visitors through a test of their sense of scent at the World of Coca-Cola. Photo: The World of Coca-Cola
"Ambassadors" help guide visitors through a test of their sense of scent at the World of Coca-Cola. Photo: The World of Coca-Cola

Credit: The World of Coca-Cola

Credit: The World of Coca-Cola

The guide, or “ambassador,” introduces each smell that the visitors will try to name, game-show style, and offers a few clues, while the video screen table provides a visual countdown to the reveal.

During one recent visit to the Coke Museum, our “ambassador” Kari Twyman directs us to squeeze the bulb attached to a vessel marked “Sweet.” A puff of air rises, lifting a tasty aroma that is easily detectable through our masks.

The video display on the tabletop counts down as we shout out guesses — "Syrup!"

“Sugar!”

Then the answer scrolls across the table — honey — along with images of golden honey dripping from a jar.

Diana and Steve Tibbetts, visiting from Jacksonville, Florida, express surprise and yet acknowledge that once the source is revealed, the smell is obvious. "You smell the honey, once you know it’s honey,” she said.

Next comes a fruity smell.

“Apple!”

“Grape!”

The table reveals we’ve been smelling melon. In between sniffs, we inhale the aroma of coffee beans, to clear the palate.

Finally, a spicy smell.

“It smells like licorice,” said Diana, but none of us can name it. The answer: star anise.

Our guide, Twyman, says the anise reminds her of the stew, sinigang, that her mother used to make, with a recipe that she brought over from her native country, the Philippines.

Many warm memories are wrapped up in that spicy, savory smell, redolent of the tropical African fruit tamarind and pork ribs.

Said Wansley, the spicy, sweet and fruity flavor profiles are part of most Coca-Cola products. “Those three profiles are present in almost every beverage we manufacture around the world.” The aroma, she said, is part of the “mystery behind taste. Your nose is preparing your brain and your mouth for what’s coming."

Around the perimeter of the room are beakers with other scents, from lime to bubblegum, where visitors can take themselves on a self-guided tour to test their aroma awareness. Altogether, there are nine different smells to puzzle out.

The World of Coca-Cola, part of the downtown tourist district, has instituted protocols to ensure safety during the pandemic, including timed entry, thermal temperature measurement, social distancing and face coverings on staff and visitors. Photo contributed by World of Coca-Cola
The World of Coca-Cola, part of the downtown tourist district, has instituted protocols to ensure safety during the pandemic, including timed entry, thermal temperature measurement, social distancing and face coverings on staff and visitors. Photo contributed by World of Coca-Cola

The experience at Scent Discovery demonstrates how the World of Coca-Cola has had to reconfigure its guest experience to keep visitors safe from the coronavirus. It limits the number that can be inside at any given time, using time-stamped entry.

The museum emphasizes social distance, requiring face-coverings, and temperature scans before guests are admitted.

“We really wanted to make sure that the health and safety of our ambassadors, employees and guests were at the forefront,” said Wansley.

Planning for the Scent Discovery experience began more than a year ago, but the exhibit was redesigned for the age of COVID-19.

In particular, designers wanted to be sure that guests could still appreciate the various scents through their masks. “We made sure the guests could smell aromas through the face masks, so the concentrated oils have to be a little bit stronger,” said Wansley.

In addition, the exhibit floor was kept empty. “We didn’t clutter it up with anything not needed," she added. “Anything on the floor was pushed to the walls so there was enough room for the guests.”

The World of Coca-Cola is open seven days a week. For hours and information go to worldofcoca-cola.com.

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