Some readers and pest control operators claim to smell “the bed bug smell.” Many others don’t. (Don’t be surprised if you don’t.) I’ve heard it called “sweet” or “musty” or compared to “ripe raspberries.”
Entomologist Dr. Lou Sorkin of the American Museum of Natural History has told me he thinks bed bugs smell like coriander.
And he has had a lot of time to ponder this: in addition to going on bed bug calls, he has a colony of bed bugs living in a jar in his office. A famous bed bug colony, I might add, one which features alongside Lou in the local and national news media.
Of the bed bug smell, Lou said,
I have always said that it reminds me of coriander and cilantro. I never really thought of it as sickly sweet or really bad.
And he pointed me to this interesting document from Alberta’s Agriculture and Rural Development (which can be downloaded as an even more attractive PDF here) outlines some facts about Coriander, for those in the agriculture industry.
And the very first paragraph begins,
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum L.) is an annual herb that belongs to the carrot family (Umbelliferae). The unripe fruits have a smell that has been compared to that of bedbugs.
What’s fascinating about this is it’s dated April 1998.
One wonders how many folks in Canada’s agriculture industry in 1998 associated this smell with bed bugs.
Or how many Canadians were more familiar with bed bugs in 1998 than with what the Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development folks call “the most commonly used flavoring in the world,” coriander, a.k.a cilantro, being an herb commonly found in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Latin American dishes.
I knew from previous exchanges with Lou that one answer to “What do bed bugs smell like?” was coriander.
But I did not know that as long as ten and a half years ago, people were asking “What does coriander smell like?” and getting the answer: “bed bugs.”
Just a reminder: do not rule out bed bugs because you do not smell coriander (cilantro), or any other odor. It’s not something everyone experiences.
Update: bed bugs are also mentioned in this New York Times food article (April 2010) about cilantrophobes.