Forget the smell of freshly baked pie or freshly cleaned laundry, for book lovers, nothing beats the smell of books. Actually, if there is one thing bookworms can universally agree upon, it is that there is nothing quite like the smell of a virgin or old book.
Smell is chemistry, and the chemistry of old and new books gives your cherished tomes their scent:
Where does the smell of old books come from?
Generally, it is the chemical breakdown of compounds within paper that leads to the production of ‘old book smell’. Paper contains, amongst other chemicals, cellulose, and smaller amounts of lignin.
Lignin is a class of complex organic polymers that form key structural materials in the support tissues of vascular plants and some algae. More specifically, lignin is the sticky resin from the tree which is removed from wood pulp during the paper making process. It happens because it has a yellowing effect on the finished paper over time, as oxidation reactions cause it to break down into acids, which then help break down cellulose.
Books from more than one hundred years ago have a unique woody smell due to the fact that the paper used in very old books was produced before lignin removing chemicals were widely used. However, the paper used for new books contains less lignin and do not smell as good as time goes by. Therefore, the more lignin there is in the paper used for the book, the better it will smell, particularly over time.
Over time, the gradual degradation of the cellulose and lignin contained in paper leads to the production of different compounds that contribute to the smell, including:
In summary, old books have a sweet smell with notes of vanilla, flowers and almonds which is caused by the breakdown of chemical compounds in the paper.
Where does the smell of freshly printed books come from?
The aroma of new books is more variable and is originated from a mix of volatile chemicals which originate from the adhesive, ink and the different treatment methods used when they are manufactured.
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Main source: https://www.compoundchem.com/