Gallery: SE Staff Picks: What's Your Favorite Food Smell?

  • Chocolate chip cookies

    The glorious perfume of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, best when sniffed directly from the oven. I used to bake them with my mom growing up, and sneaking a spoonful or three of the batter was as equal a part of our ritual as the inevitable flour facial. Jessica Leibowitz

    It has to be cookies baking in the oven, preferably of the chocolate chip variety. That sugary buttery smell literally stops me dead in my tracks. It's the equivalent of wrapping yourself in a warm, fuzzy, happy blanket. There's just no contest! —Christine Tsai

    Onions sauteeing

    Sliced onions that are browned and caramelizing in a skillet

    The greatest food smell in the world is the smell of onions sauteeing in olive oil or butter. It's the smell of the promise of delicious things to come, the start of countless dishes in many cuisines. It's the smell of the slow breakdown of sugars and proteins and their recombination into hundreds of other flavorful compounds that add complexity, sweetness, and savoriness to your dishes. It's a smell that reminds me of the first time I stepped into a professional kitchen and knew that I was exactly where I belonged—how could I not want to work in a place that smells this good all the time? Kenji Lopez-Alt

    Apple Pie or Plum Tart

    A pile of plums with whole brown eggs, a pile of flour, a small bowl of sugar, a whisk, and a bowl with a half pound of butter on a counter.

    Apple pie in the oven is hard to beat. You get the holy trinity of butter, sugar, and flour combining in the crust, and apples and cinnamon and sugar in the filling. Come to think of it, my wife's plum tart, made from a Joan Nathan recipe, has the same elements with the plums substituting for the apples. So if I had to pick a winner, I'd probably go with the plum tart. Either would fill up anyone's kitchen with an amazing smell. Ed Levine

    [Inga Nielsen / Shutterstock]

    Banana Bread, or Whatever's in the Slow Cooker

    Two slices of banana bread on a small plate

    Bananas themselves don't always have a loud smell, but once they're all mashed up and warming in the oven with butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and spices... forget about it. A huge part of baking banana bread is that added bonus of an aroma. You can smell them browning, releasing all their rich banana powers.

    And, another important one! My dear slow cooker. Last year my nostrils became much happier when that massive countertop-hogging apparatus entered my life. There's nothing like the hodgepodge of aromas created over much gentle time, sitting and marrying flavors. My favorite is that first second of walking into the apartment after eight-plus hours of all the stuff working its magic in there. Oftentimes I'll forget about it altogether, then blammo. All other thoughts dissolve. That room-filling scent is incredible. If it's really good, you can smell it all the way from the building's front door. (You're welcome, neighbors!). Some stand-outs include: smoky split pea soup, beef stew, and buttermilk oatmeal. Erin Zimmer

    [Anna Hoychuk / Shutterstock ]

    Pumpkin pie or fresh applesauce

    A pot of peeled, chopped apples being mashed with a potato masher to make applesauce


    Gingerbread cookie batter in a cookie sheet with gingerbread man molds

    My first response would be freshly baked baguettes. I can practically get a contact high from entering a bakery in the morning- but the smell of gingerbread has a special place in my heart. It's warm and spicy, with hints of molasses, allspice, and cloves. Gingerbread says Christmastime and family. One whiff makes me feel cheery and cozy, its gingery goodness simply begging me to drop everything and snuggle down in front of a fire. Carrie Vasios Mullins

    Italian specialty store

    Thinly sliced charcuterie on butcher paper
    Robyn Lee

    That mixture of cheese, meats, and semolina bread smells like my childhood. Every single holiday and special event we got a massive antipasto platter with fresh mozz, salami, sopressata, roasted red peppers, olives, stromboli and other Italian goodies from a place called A&S Pork Store on Long Island. When I was really little it was too pungent for me. It grossed me out. I would always hold my breath while waiting for my dad to place the order. As I got older, I grew to love it. I'd even walk around the store deeply breathing it in, anticipating the meal to come. It's a bit of an acquired smell, kind of gamy and funky, but to me there's nothing better. Leandra Palermo

    Rice cooking

    Rice cooking in rice cookers
    Robyn Lee

    It's way too hard to pick my favorite food smell (freshly baked cookies! vanilla! ripe peaches!, so I'll just pick one of my favorites that's a bit weird: freshly cooked rice. Specifically, the smell that wafts from a rice cooker when you first pop it open post-cooking. I love eating rice, so I guess it makes sense that I'd love the smell, too. Someone agree with me, please. Robyn Lee

    I'm so glad I finally get to use this photo of rice cookers I took over three years ago.

    Cornbread baking in a bacon grease coated skillet

    A slice of cornbread on a plate

    So this is sorta double-dipping because it includes bacon and baking bread (well, of sorts), but that is why exactly why cornbread baking, and it's gotta be crisping up in a bacon grease coated cast-iron skillet, is one of the best food smells around. Plus, it's so easy to throw together at the last minute (particularly when the pantry is otherwise bread-less) that the gratification comes so easily. It's probably for that reason that it has been a smell that has filled the house more evenings than any other. Try this recipe. Meredith Smith

    Pastry Baking

    A croissant cut in half to show the layers inside
    Robyn Lee

    Well-made French pastries are probably my favorite foodstuff on the planet, but even less than perfect croissants smell insanely good when baking. There is absolutely no better way to start a morning than to open the door to a bakery and be greeted by a rush of warm, buttery, toasty air. —Carey Jones

    Chocolate Chip Cookies