Mysterious New York City Smell Is Fenugreek

Every since 2005, New Yorkers have occasionally experienced the smell of maple syrup wafting over their neighborhood. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday the mystery was solved: fenugreek seeds being processed by a food-manufacturing company in New Jersey.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Since 2005, New York City residents occasionally have been mystified by a sweet maple syrup smell that has wafted over the west side of Manhattan and beyond. Well, today, in his best Sherlock Holmes manner, Mayor Michael Bloomberg laid this mystery to rest.

Here's NPR's Margot Adler.

MARGOT ADLER: Whatever you may think of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he has fun doing his job, and that was clear today at a news conference where the mayor spent a full 20 minutes telling the city and the media…

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York City): The mystery of the maple syrup mist has finally been solved.

ADLER: He pointed to a map with dots where the smell was reported, and arrows to show wind patterns and triangles to show processing plants in New Jersey. Mayor Bloomberg said a team of investigators put it all together. The wind was blowing west to east from New Jersey across the Hudson. The odor reports came on days when the wind speed was moderate and the air somewhat humid.

Investigators found that the odor came from a compound that uses fenugreek seeds. Fenugreek is an ingredient often used in vanilla, maple and butterscotch flavorings. One New Jersey company that processes fenugreek is called Frutarom.

Mayor BLOOMBERG: We also learned that one of the last times Frutarom's facility in North Bergen processed the seed was, in fact, last Thursday night.

ADLER: The very night that some 80 people called the 311 hotline to complain.

Mayor BLOOMBERG: I can think of a lot of things worse than maple syrup.

ADLER: It's completely safe, said the mayor, and not harmful, and the company was apparently not breaking any laws.

Mayor BLOOMBERG: It just happens to be one of the aromas that we're going to have to live with in a city like New York, which is surrounded by neighbors who are also bustling and industrious.

ADLER: The case is closed, he said, and having reassured his English-speaking audience, he began to give his soothing message to Spanish-speaking New Yorkers.

Mayor BLOOMBERG: (Speaking Spanish)

ADLER: Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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