Smelling Colours – Results

If you read my last post, you will know I carried out an experiment where I asked a group of friends to smell some seasonal fruit and vegetables (blind folded) and then choose a colour (blind fold removed) from my NCS fan that best described what they could smell.

The results are interesting but not what I was expecting. I expected to see an array of Autumnal colours or at least colours that matched the highly chromatic skins of the fruit or vegetables.

Above are three representative samples from the experiment. At first glance I thought the experiment showed none other than a random set of colours which would not be totally surprising as smells are closely linked to emotions and are therefore bound to transport each person to their own unique place.  However, I found an interesting pattern did actually emerge.

The first sample smell was sliced raw artichoke.  The majority of colours chosen were “clean” colours as opposed to “muddied”. Colour psychologists like to group sets of colours and I favour Angela Wright‘s  seasonal groupings. In this test the results all fall very neatly into a “Spring” palette.

Sample two, a sliced lime,  was less successful because all my participants recognised the citrus smell and chose lemony-limey colours accordingly.


Sample three, a sliced pomegranate, resulted in several participants choosing a deep earthy brown. Interestingly, it was pomegranate seeds that Hades used to trick Persephone into eating while prisoner in the Underworld. Food and drink of course were forbidden in the Underworld so by eating the seeds, Persephone was condemned to spend six months every year back down in the Underworld. Perhaps this Greek myth is trapped somewhere in our psyche and makes us associate the smell with the deep brown of the Underworld…..

Sample four was a piece of sliced turmeric root. I found these results the most surprising of all. As turmeric is such a strong orange colour I expected warm colours to be chosen. Although all the participants chose different colours (and bear in mind they had the full 1,950 NCS colours to choose from), they all choose a “cool” colour and most of them chose some form of blue.

Sample five was a sliced fig. Again, all the participants chose different colours but all the colours chosen were “warm” colours. It might be that the participants recognised the smell and associated eating fresh figs during warm summer holidays but nobody confessed to knowing what they were smelling.

What I can conclude is that we do appear to associate smells with certain colour groups even when we don’t know what it is were are smelling. However, my experiment was not particularly scientific as my sample was small and all my participants were local. In a larger group from different geographical areas, the results may change considerably.

The main thing is that it’s been fun, surprising  and I’ve even gathered up some great new colour palettes some of which may well be the starting point for my next range of textiles. Result.