From piñon to petrichor: 4 aromas that define Albuquerque and New Mexico - in a good way - Albuquerque Journal

From piñon to petrichor: 4 aromas that define Albuquerque and New Mexico – in a good way

New Mexico is unique in many ways, including its diverse mix of cultures, its Balloon Fiesta, and its cuisine, to name a few.

But there is something else special about the state, something that is invisible to the eye but permeates nonetheless into our connection to the land: its smells.

A group of savvy fifth graders recognized this, and made the case to the New Mexico state Legislature last month that smell is an essential part of the state culture – so much so that they urged the passage of a bill that would name the scent of roasting green chile the official state smell.

But chile isn’t the only notable aroma in New Mexico. In light of the effort to settle on an official state smell, here’s a list of scents that define Albuquerque – in a good way.

Roasting chile

Joe Baca empties freshly roasted chile from a roaster at The Fruit Basket ABQ on Fourth Street in Los Ranchos in September. (Chancey Bush/Journal)

Nothing is more New Mexican than green chile (we don’t want to hear it, Colorado). But beyond the kick it gives to cheeseburgers and breakfast burritos, it also provides an aroma like none other when it is roasted in the fall.

Pretty much anywhere in the state during the season, passersby will catch a whiff of a smoky, spicy flavor that develops in the chile as they are tossed in a metal tumbler while flames lap at the peppers.

Often, the smell heralds the arrival of fall and the harvesting season, as farmers collect their crops and prepare for the coming winter.

General Mills

On Paseo Del Norte in Albuquerque, just west of Interstate 25, drivers coasting with their windows down can sometimes catch a sweet scent that floats through the air from the General Mills cereal factory — a windowless building with looming smokestacks.

“We receive comments all the time that people love driving by the plant for the smell,” said Doug Neumann, HR manager at the General Mills Albuquerque plant. “On any given day, we’re making a variety of fan favorite cereals and granola bars so throughout the day, it can smell like fruit, chocolate, toasted granola, and cinnamon. I grew up a huge Reese’s Puffs fan, and still love them today.”

The aroma, seemingly from nowhere, sometimes baffles residents who don’t know what goes on inside the massive blue-striped building.

“I drive on Paseo nearly everyday, and nearly everyday just after passing the Jefferson exit (heading West) I am hit with an AMAZING smell,” one Reddit user posted on the r/Albuquerque forum. “Any idea where it comes from??”

After the answer came from another Reddit user, the original poster responded: “Well now I don’t know if I’m happy or sad. Happy I know what it is. Sad it’s not some restaurant with some super amazing dish I can go have.”

According to Neumann, Trix cereal is the strongest aroma, followed by the smell of Nature Valley Oats & Honey bars as they come out of the toaster.


Thunderstorms pass near Downtown Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

While the term “petrichor” may be unfamiliar to many, the phenomenon itself is hard to miss.

When New Mexico is lucky enough to get rain – usually during its monsoon season – a refreshing, humid smell tends to rise as the clouds move in and water begins to coat the dirt and roads.

This smell is petrichor. According to the American Chemical Society, the smell is caused by “water from the rain, along with certain compounds like ozone, geosmin, and plant oils.”

No matter its origin, the smell is generally a happy sign of relief for drought-stricken farmlands and rain-lovers across the state.


Leo Benavidez, left, loads John Hudak’s SUV with piñon and cedar wood along Tramway Blvd. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Piñon trees are abundant in New Mexico. In fact, speaking of an official state smell, the piñon pine is actually the official tree of New Mexico.

The Piñon nut has an ancient history in the area’s cuisine, but the tree also has a large presence in the air, not just on the plate.

As winter approaches, people fill their stacks of firewood with piñon cuttings. Gusty winds blow, snow falls, and the temperature drops, prompting many with fireplaces in their home to, well, fire them up. And as the wood smolders and rises through the chimneys, the earthy, smoky, cozy smell of piñon fills the New Mexico air.

Home » ABQnews Seeker » From piñon to petrichor: 4 aromas that define Albuquerque and New Mexico – in a good way

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