Written by Mike McRae
An animal that smells of popcorn sounds more like a creature from a fairy tale than from reality. But the bearcat, found in Southeast Asia, is a real-life fantastic beast known for its unusual popcorn scent. The source of its smell, though, is hardly appetising.
Researchers at the Caroline Tiger Rescue sanctuary in the United States identified chemicals in the urine of 33 bearcats. One of the compounds they found is called 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline. While this might not sound familiar, anybody who has been to a cinema would recognise its smell.
The sugars and proteins in popcorn change as they’re heated. This process is called a Maillard reaction. Most cooked foods have the same reaction, giving everything from bread to steak a sweet, delicious taste.
Since bearcats never get hot enough for the Maillard reaction, they must have some other way to create this chemical. Researchers think it could be produced by bacteria living around the animal’s scent glands
Enjoy this article? It’s from Double Helix magazine, Issue 12.