The Nose Knows – Mixing by Scent

Nose and mouth sensations give us the full picture

As I have covered in previous articles, when we vape, we are both tasting and smelling the aerosolized vapor, rather than what most people think of as just tasting their vape liquids. Smell actually accounts for about 85% to 90% of the sensation that we get from vapor, but it is slightly different from sniffing the bottle of juice and inhaling and exhaling the vapor. There is often a noticeable difference between the two smells with the added components of taste and the posterior section of nasal nerves responsible for a large portion of our taste sensation, where as our anterior smell receptors are located on the other side of an internal ridge inside the nose that are responsible for most of our “smell” sensation of external scents.

So when we vape, we are getting a blend of external smell, internal smell, and mouth sensation taste.  Most of the textural sensations we get from vape flavors comes from our brain’s interpretation of those aroma molecules and a denser feel to the vapor in the mouth.   Flavorings are that aren’t specifically created for vaping (and sometimes even then) will often taste closer to what they are supposed to be when eaten rather than vaped, because this new way of sensing aromas is in its infancy at this point in the world of aroma development.  Flavorings are also developed by flavorists in labs not necessarily applying them specifically for vaping, so knowing how the smell/taste/texture components in vapor is an unknown, until we test them out.

Mixing by smell vs mixing based on predetermined recipes

As a lot of vapers are starting to turn to DIY there is a large selection of mixing information and recipes on the internet now, especially compared to when I started back in 2010.  Maybe my way is considered a bad habit by some, or a relic of the past when we weren’t measuring on scales and figuring out recipes by percentages, but in the 8 years I’ve been mixing this method has rarely failed me.  I do admit to falling to some peer pressure once I switched over from volume mixing to scale mixing, and I tried for a long time to come up with percentages based on single flavor tests and looking at how other people use flavors to determine what percentage I should use for my recipes. But, when I did this I started running into some serious mixers block. Nothing I mixed would come out the way I wanted it.  It didn’t smell right in the bottle, and it vaped even worse.  Foregoing what “everyone else is doing” I returned to mixing my own way and voila my mixes started being awesome for me again. Why? Because I was trusting my nose to tell me what I needed in terms of amounts of aromas.

I know when you first start mixing it is hard to know what to start with, and how much of each flavor should be mixed into your test bottles, and how you mix into different sized bottles is of course going to vary with their size and shape. But when mixing by smell you use the volume of the size of the bottle to gauge how strong a flavoring is going to be in that size sample. The larger the bottle the more flavoring needs to be added for the aromas to expand into the bottle’s headspace (this means the empty space above the flavoring.) And you need to swirl the flavoring in the bottom of the bottle to release the aromas into the headspace.

How I mix by smell

Let’s take strawberry, FA Red Touch, in a 30ml bottle I drip 5 drops into it and give it a little swirl around to aerate the flavoring and swoosh the aroma molecules around in the space.  It’s not quite as strong as I would like it, so I add 5 more drops (I know off the top of my head this is generally going to be about 0.3g of flavor equaling about 1% in a 30ml give or take a tiny bit.)  I want this to be a main note, so it’s still not quite strong enough.  So I add 5 more drops, swirl and sniff. So now I’m roughly around 1.5% in my mix.  I know I’m going to add more to the overall strawberry note so I stop there.  I sniff a few more strawberry flavors and decide I need it to go more into a brighter strawberry note, so I add in 1 drop of FLV Alpine Strawberry, swirl and sniff. Not quite strong enough yet, so I add another drop, swirl and sniff. Still not quite right, so I go for a 3rd drop. Finally this last swirl and sniff gives me the right level of aroma that I want in the finished profile.  I am also weighing my bottle once I’ve stopped adding flavoring, to get the exact weight that I am at so I can note it down, then I tare the scale out with the bottle on it so it is set for 0 when I return the bottle to get the weight of the next flavoring.

For a secondary note, I want a general berry fruity note, so I go with FA Forest Fruit (after sniffing a few different berry flavors with my strawberry and this was the one that fit what I am going for, dark and jammy and general berry fruitiness.) I add 3 drops, swirl and sniff.  Not quite right so I add 2 more drops, swirl and sniff (this I know is going to be about 0.5%.) I do weigh it even though I know roughly the amount just to make sure. I note this down in my notebook.

Next I know what want a cream and vanilla note – because I’ve decided to go for a fruity cream flavor.  So I sniff several different creams, several different vanillas while also wafting the mix bottle up to my nose with that flavoring bottle to see how the aromas will blend. They are basically blending in my nose. I pick out OOO Cream – Milky undertones, FA Vanilla Gelato, and FLV Sweet Cream.  I follow the same process with the creams as I did the berries, dripping, swirling, sniffing and deciding just how much I need to get to the point where the headspace aroma smells the way I want the final recipe to taste.

Finishing the recipe off with additives

Where this style of mixing gets fuzzy, is when going for additives like candy wizard, or sour wizard, or things like AAA Magic mask or MTS vape wizard, or TFA Sour, or sweeteners….how much to add when we can’t smell an ingredient. This is where experience with experimenting with these additives come in, and single flavor testing is pretty much useless here, you have to add them to test recipes. So I know with this current recipe we’re working with above, I don’t need any extra thickness, so MTS wouldn’t be needed. I don’t need to mask any bitter or weird notes, I don’t need magic mask.  But Candy wizard and sour wizard might work to help the berries.  But I don’t want it to be too candy like, but I want it to be sweeter and slightly jammy.  I have tested the candy wizard and sour wizard combo in some simple strawberry testers, so I know already from my notes, 0.25% of Candy Wizard and 0.5% of sour wizard should work here to add a balanced jammy note with a tartness from the sour that will balance the sweetness in the overall recipe.

I do suggest doing test recipes experimenting with different additives, things like TFA Smooth can be great to make a shake and vape flavor less harsh, but you may find it causes muting after a few weeks of steeping. MTS Vape Wizard sometimes also has a muting effect, and a bit of a woody note, and works great for tobaccos, but sometimes not so well for fruit flavors.  AAA magic mask can cause serious muting issues if you over do it, and can sometimes over soften notes instead of just toning them to the appropriate level.  Even sour wizard and candy wizard can do some funky things if you go too high, but work magical things when done in the right balance with the other flavors.  The only way to learn how to use additives is experimenting with them yourself and maybe using some guides like flavor notes for suggestions of what to try.

This is my method of mixing.  It won’t work for everyone, but I have found most people are capable of trusting their nose unless they have serious damage to their anterior side nasal receptors causing them to be blind to most external smells.  If this is the case, single flavor testing is really going to be the best method for you and doing simple test recipes with your flavors will help you see how they blend using your posterior nasal receptors and your sense of taste in your mouth as you vape.  If you smell serious off notes from a flavor in a bottle, the only way to know if they steep out is to single flavor test before even blending them in a recipe. Sometimes flavors taste different after a steep, and knowing their ending steeped state can help you move past the off notes you may smell in the bottle when mixing by smell, because you will know the off notes steep out. I do find however, most flavors with seriously strong off notes generally don’t steep out or get better and end up in the drawer of no return.

Have fun with your mixing adventure! And learn to trust your nose, cause the nose really does know.

Featured photo credit: CK HongKong Big Big Dog via photopin (license)

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