What Is the Worst Kind of Rotting Smell?

Warning (if the title didn’t do so for you), I’m talking about gross stuff in this post.  If you don’t like gross stuff don’t read this post . . . which is about gross stuff.  There, you’re aptly warned. Gross stuff below!

Okay, so a disgusting question, yes, but one that I got to thinking about the other day.  I have encountered a wide range of rotting smells over the years, primarily due to keeping compost (it becomes kind of inevitable with that), but also, on occasion  for leaving something in the fridge past its prime (or worse yet, forgetting to put something in the fridge in the first place), or running into something dead out in the world.  All around, the smell of rot tends to be unpleasant, to say the least, if not outright sickening.  But what rotting thing smells the worst?

I do not know if there is some kind of official measurement of smell or the horribleness of rot-stench so I am just going go out on a limb and say that the worst  kind of rotting smell is “flesh.” Whether it be meat or a dead animal; that is the truly worst of the worst when it comes to disgusting.  Honestly, I am pretty tolerant of strong smells most of the time, and really, as best as I can recall, the only time I’ve honestly ever wretched at a smell was when, working at a plant nursery a few years back, I came upon a wonderfully decaying dead rat.  It was rough.  I don’t know what it is about rotting animal matter, but it has a tendency to be real bad.

Okay, so what about non-animal things?  While none of it smells great I tend to think that there are three things in particular that are real bad compared to all others.  Onions, potatoes, and peppers.  I don’t really know what it is about these three veggies (fruit, if you want to be all technical in the case of the peppers), but when they go bad, they go real bad. They also seem to have the tendency to go bad real fast and suddenly.  Like, they are fine and good one day, and then the next they are just a pile of rank death and disgust.  Furthermore, at least in the case of potatoes and onions, these are food things I often have in high abundance, raising the risk of them suddenly turning on me (also increasing their quantity in the compost). What interests me about them however, is that each one has a unique and different rotting smell.  Onions still smell, essentially, like onions, just stronger and worse and evil.  Potatoes get this slick sewage rot smell to them.  Almost oily.  And peppers, they just have this cloying and clinging sickly sweet rot, that permeates through everything.  Other veggies and fruits are not great, but a carrot or a lemon never seem to be quite as foul as an onion or pepper past its prime.

While we’re on the subject, perhaps it is worth considering the “why” of rotting things smelling so bad. I suspect (though don’t have the direct evidence to back this up) that the primary reason things smell so bad to us when they rot is as a biological defense mechanism to prevent us from eating said rotting things.  The process of decomposition involves an astounding amount of microorganism and while many are likely harmless to us, some are apt to have a potential to cause us to get quite sick (if not kill us, and making us into rotting things. Just sayin’).  Thus it is, from a survival standpoint, pertinent to be made to want to avoid rotting things. Additionally, as a last line of defense, rotting things taste disgusting (though this is actually partially due to smell too, as fragrance plays a huge role in how we interpret tastes).   So, when you gag at some disgusting rot smell you can (after you are done gagging and dry heaving) thank evolution from keeping you from wanting to put that dead possum in your mouth (enjoy putting all the not-dead possums in your mouth that you want to.  I’m sure said possums will be really cooperative with you about it).

I feel like it is worth noting that dogs, universally, seem to have lost this revulsion to rotting things.  Instead, somewhere along the way, their minds got rewired to interpret rottingness as the greatest most fascinating and alluring smells ever encountered.  So great are they that the dogs will happily roll in said rotting stuff, eat it, and also offer it as gifts of absolute love to their friend-beasts (aka you and me).  Hey dogs, evolution pulled a fast one on you, that rotting skunk is not amazing, it is real real gross, leave it alone.

Oh, if you are like me, and don’t get particularly easily grossed out at things (besides dead rats, crawling with maggots, and smelling of death in the worst imaginable way possible), you might want to watch “After Life: The Science of Decay.”  It is a truly fascinating look at the whole process of rotting and decay that will eventual reduce all of us to nothing but our most base elements (Hooray!)

That is all.  Oh! And just in time for lunch. MMM-MM!

~ by Nathaniel on May 8, 2013.

One Response to “What Is the Worst Kind of Rotting Smell?”

  1. I feel obligated, as a gardener and avid composter (and advocate for other to take up composting) that if you keep up with it right, compost will actually not create too much bad smell. This is dependent on the right balance of green matter (nitrogen) – your table scraps, with brown matter (carbon) – leaves, wood, dried hay, etc. With the correct rations the fragrance from the decaying green matter will be well masked if not all out eliminated.

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