Chemistry of holiday season

My partner and I at a Christmas market

Holiday season is one of my favorite periods of the year. I am not a religious person, but I really love the lights, the decorations, the flavour and the scent of this period.

But I am also a scientist, so I was curios to know what is the chemistry behind this magical period. I search a bit the literature and discover a couple of interesting things!

Let’s start with one of my favorite.

Roasted chestnuts

My brother and I eating chestnuts and drinking mulled wine in Berlin

Two are the main molecules responsible for the characteristic aroma of roasted chestnuts: furfunal and ɣ-butyrolactone.

Thanks to furfunal roasted chestnuts have a sweet, roastly and almond-like flavour.

ɣ-butyrolactone is responsible for the faint, sweet and caramel-like flavour.


Zingerone gives gingerbread its sweet and spicy flavour. It is produced when ginger is heated.

And now, it’s time to drink!!


I explained the chemistry behind the flavor and sparkliness do champagne here.

Mulled wine 

The typical aroma of mulled wine is conferred by eugenol and cinnamaldehyde. Eugenol is found in cinnamon, nutmeg, bay leaves, it smells like cloves.

Cinnamaldehyde accounts for up to 90% of the oil extracted from cinnamon bark, it’s odor is pungent, cinnamon-like.

Pine trees

Close your eyes and imagine the smell of pine trees. It’s so woody and fresh. We need to thanks ⲁ-, β-pinene and bornyl acetate for this peculiar scent.

ⲁ-, β-pinene give the fresh, woody and turpentine-like odor, while bornyl acetate has a clean, pine-like odor.

What is the scent that you like the most of this period of the year?


Kyriakidis, “The Chemistry of Christmas”, (2017),

Jackson and Dicks, “The Five Senses of Christmas Chemistry”, (2012),

Chemistry Advent 2017:

Chemistry World: 

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