Smelly Supplements: A Sign of Quality?
Encountering a Stinky Supplement
We’ve all been there, you get a new supplement with potential benefits that you’re really excited about. The bottle is shiny, beautiful, and enticing. You eagerly screw off the cap, remove the seal, and pull out the cotton wad...only to be greeted by a smell that can only be described as distinctly unpleasant.
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Many vitamins, minerals, and other supplement ingredients have inherently strong smells, bitter flavors, and/or astringent qualities.
Why, oh why do so many of the healthiest things in life smell and taste horrible? From seafood like fish and seaweed to cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage to fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, some of the best things in life come in some of the stinkiest packages, and supplements are no exception.
Doesn’t the Smell Indicate Spoilage Though?
Not necessarily. Just like the foods mentioned above, some supplements are just naturally repugnant.
B Vitamins and Omega-3 Oils (two of the most important nutrient categories for maintaining good health) are notorious for their sulfur-like smells that lead people to describe them as fishy or urine-esque.
Then, Can’t You Do Something About the Taste and Smell?
Yes. Technically, we could mask these smells for you by altering our formulas to contain synthetic fillers and coatings that reduce the smell and taste, but we like to keep things healthy and au naturel, as Mother Nature intended.
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Besides, taste and smell subjectivity are part of the experience. Just as one person may enjoy the taste and smell of fish while another person finds it repulsive, supplement formulations can impart their own unique and polarizing smell and flavor profiles.
Unlike a fish dinner, however, supplements can be swallowed in a couple of gulps, and the experience, whether enjoyable or unpleasant, is over in a moment. Thank gawd. (The brevity of the experience is key to remember when you dislike the smell or flavor of your supplements.)
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In contrast, the benefits of said supplements may be far-reaching and they certainly extend far beyond the initial process of swallowing them.
AND the potential risks of many of the fillers, coatings, colorings, and flavorings that we at Wholesome Story avoid, can have far-reaching effects too.
I’m a Sensitive Person…Why Should I Take Stinky Pills?
As we’ve established, since dietary supplements are usually made from isolated, health-promoting components, many of them have a malodorous quality that people can find off-putting. They’re full of concentrated goodness…and sometimes goodness is stinky.
The smell and taste of high-quality supplements are big reasons why more people don’t use them. And, for those that “don’t need them anyway,” this choice makes sense. Getting your nutrients from your food is what Nature intended anyway.
But, what if you feel you need supplements?
Many of us struggle to meet our needs through diet alone, and we like to use supplements to bridge the gap. This choice makes total sense, given the depleted state of our soils and the low nutrition quality in many of our most popular foods.
Nutritional supplements offer a quick, easy way to help ensure we’re getting the nutrients we need to live our healthiest lives.
Let’s take a peek at some of the most notorious stinkers in the supplement world:
Infamously sulfury in both smell and taste, this popular dietary supplement doth stinks.
Foods that are high in NAC include plants in the allium family, such as onions, garlic, leeks, etc. Some of the stink associated with these plant foods can be attributed to their high NAC content…so when you isolate that stinky, wonderful substance, you get an incredibly powerful supplement with an incredibly powerful odor. Go figure. 1
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Ah B vitamins, can’t live without them, but they can tend to smell and taste pretty bad. 2
In a study examining which vitamins had the best and worst flavor profiles, Vitamins B1 and B2 ranked as the most bitter and unpleasant. 3
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Omega-3s (including DHA and EPA)
Even vegan omega-3s sourced from algae smell like fish. This is because fish get their smell from the algae they eat, and the algae gets its smell from its high content of omega-3 fatty acids.
This is why omega-3-containing supplements often have a low-tide quality when you smell them. Best to hold your breath and swallow quickly!
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This unassuming vitamin is thankfully one that we need in very small amounts. Because, if we needed lots of it, we’d all be deficient in it, thanks to its less-than-lovely taste and smell.
In one study, scientists working with Vitamin E even described it as “repulsive.” 3 Mmm, yumm.
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Minerals are metal, so they taste metallic…which a lot of people really hate.
Mineral supplements have been almost universally described as “bitter” and we agree. Not a great flavoring additive. 3
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Natural Aroma and Flavor as a Sign of Quality
Many high-quality nutritional supplements have odd smells, which we know. And, to be perfectly honest, this is often a sign of quality.
Quality supplements don’t have tons of fillers, flavorings, colors, and other additives. A few additional ingredients are typically necessary to ensure manufacturing runs smoothly, but excessive amounts of harmful chemicals, such as synthetic dyes and flavorings, are red flags.
At Wholesome Story, we pride ourselves on using as few extra ingredients as possible.
- No flavoring additives.
- No coloring agents or dyes of any kind.
- No synthetic excipients.
- No excipients that are banned in countries with strict laws (such as Canada or the EU).
Quality and purity are essential to our formulations.
Help! I NEED It to Smell Better.
So, you’re convinced that additives aren’t the way to improve your supplement experience and you’re looking for other ways to make your supplements taste and smell better.
We’ve got you covered!
Here are some tips to reduce the smell of your supplements:
Air it out! Open the bottle and leave the cap off for an hour or so to allow the odor-causing compounds to disperse so they’re not as concentrated.
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- Wipe them off! Use a tissue or napkin to gently wipe any residual powder off the outside of your capsules. This will help reduce the amount of unpleasant compounds that come in contact with your taste receptors.
- Soak up the smell! Pop in a sachet of baking soda. This is an easy, cheap way to keep things smelling better. Grab an empty tea sachet or coffee filter and add 1-2 tablespoons of baking soda. Seal it up, cut off any excess material, and pop it in your bottle. The baking soda will help to absorb odors and make your experience a little fresher.
- Eat or drink something aromatic. Follow up your supplements with a big whiff and a gulp of something strong and pleasant such as herbal tea, coffee, or warm, fragrant food. Gif # 10
- Juice helps! Take your supplements with a delicious juice, preferably something high in acid like pineapple or orange. This can help to overpower any unpleasant flavors and also serve as a delicious way to cleanse the mouth of any lingering, icky flavors.
For many people, the smell and taste of certain supplements can be pretty off-putting. Because of this, many companies use an array of artificial chemicals to mask the smells and flavors that people find unpleasant. But, these additives aren’t usually healthy, and many of them can also inhibit the positive effects of the supplements they’re added to.
A food-first approach to wellness and nutrition is a great start, but for many people, food just can’t take care of all their needs.
Wholesome Story is committed to providing clean, safe, effective supplements that are as natural and bioavailable as possible. Our commitment to cleanliness and opposition to synthetic chemicals means that our products often smell more “natural” than other brands. This is a sign of quality, and not something to sniff at. (Pun intended.)
We hope that the tips and tricks we’ve provided above can help you enjoy your supplements without having to compromise on health and cleanliness.
In parting, remember that eating healthy, whole foods, and lots of plant foods is one of the simplest, safest, and most effective things we can do to promote good health in our bodies. As with every preventative/restorative measure though, sometimes these changes alone are not enough to help our bodies function the way we want or need them to. If you are struggling with health problems, please contact your doctor or other healthcare provider such as a Naturopathic Doctor, Dietitian, or Mental Health Professional to see if they can offer appropriate guidance and care. We at Wholesome Story believe that healthy communities require community effort, so we advise you to keep your healthcare community aware and involved in your journey as you pursue better health.
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1. Šalamon Š, Kramar B, Marolt TP, Poljšak B, Milisav I. Medical and Dietary Uses of N-Acetylcysteine. Antioxidants. 2019;8(5):111. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox80501112. Nowfoods.com. Published 2023. Accessed November 30, 2023. https://www.nowfoods.com/healthy-living/FAQs/vitamin-b-faqs
3. Delompré T, Guichard E, Briand L, Salles C. Taste Perception of Nutrients Found in Nutritional Supplements: A Review. Nutrients. 2019;11(9):2050. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu110920504. All gifs obtained from Gify.com; links for each gif are posted below the respective image.