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Home » Santa Clarita News » Environment » SCV Outdoor Report » SCV Outdoor Report: The Smell Of Fresh Earth

SCV Outdoor Report: The Smell Of Fresh Earth

By Wendy Langhans


“Geosmin” is produced by the blue-green algae that live infreshwater marshes.

This week I planted a few herbs in my kitchen garden, which consists of a few mismatched pots on our back porch.  The moist potting soil was crumbly and marvelously odiferous, overwhelming the more subtle scents of sage and marjoram.

That earthy smell reminded me of the years I lived in Minnesota.  I always looked forward to that magical winter day when I knew “in my bones” that spring was coming.  I could literally smell it in the air – the wind changed direction, coming from the south, and with it came a fresh smell of moist, living earth.

It turns out that smell actually has a name:  geosmin, which translates as “earth smell”.  Geosmin is produced in the soil by microbes such Streptomyces coelicolor, part of the same bacterial family that produces antibiotics like streptomycin and neomycin.  Our nose is quite adept at detecting it – even in concentrations as small as 5 parts-per-trillion.  I don’t know why that is; perhaps our ancestors relied on that smell to help them find water.  For you see, geosmin is also produced by blue-green algae, which lives in fresh water ponds and streams.

Geosmin is what gives bottom-dwelling catfish an “off” taste.  Experienced cooks know a trick to fix this – season the fish with lemon juice.  And food chemists know why this trick works, because geosmin is broken down by acids (like citric acid in lemon juice and lactic acid in buttermilk).  “Cook’s Illustrated” recently did a taste test of catfish, comparing lemon-water with buttermilk soaks.  Their recommendation:  soak the catfish fillet for an hour in buttermilk before cooking.

American coots have a “gamy” flavor that comes from the algae they eat.

But catfish aren’t the only creatures whose taste is affected by geosmin.  So do certain species of waterfowl such as American coots.   According to my Dad (who has been hunting ducks for over 70 years), coots have a gamy flavor because they eat algae.  Perhaps someone should ask the people at “Cook’s Illustrated” to run another taste test; I know where they can find an ample supply of coots in the Santa Clarita Valley.  Or perhaps not – it doesn’t make sense to fix a small stink by raising an even bigger one.

Upcoming Outdoor Events:  

Saturday, April 12, 8:30-10:30 am. Towsley Canyon.  Wildflower Photo Safari
Bring your own camera and join us as we stalk the wildflowers on this easy hike.  Meet at the front parking lot.
For directions and a trail map, click here .


Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

Saturday, April 19, 8:00-10:00 am.  Towsley Canyon.  Early Morning Bird Hike
It’s that magical time of year and birds are part of the magic. Join us on an easy hike to see which birds make Towsley Canyon home and those fabulous travelers that are flying through town. Beginners are welcome. Bring your binoculars and meet at the entrance to the park.
For directions and a trail map, click here .
Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

Saturdays, April 12 and 26, and every Wednesday, 8:00 am.  Trail Maintenance Volunteers at Towsley Canyon.


Come join our trail maintenance volunteers for camaraderie and a heart-thumping workout.  For more information call Steve Ioerger at 661-291-1565 or
Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

The wildflowers are in bloom!  If you only go hiking once a year, these next few weekends are the times to visit Towsley, East/Rice, Whitney or Pico Canyons.

For maps and directions, click here and scroll down to the “Discover your Parks” section.
Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

This is also a good time to visit the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve.
For more information, you can call the hotline at (661- 724-1180 or visit their website by clicking here .  


The Reserve is located 15 miles west of Lancaster at 15101 Lancaster Road.  
From Highway 14:  Take the Avenue I exit and head west 15 miles.  Avenue I becomes Lancaster Road.  

On your way back, you can also pay a visit to Vasquez Rocks.
Directions:  heading east on Hwy 14, take the exit at Agua Dulce Canyon Road and turn left at the off ramp. The road makes an abrupt right turn and later an abrupt left turn, but the park entrance is straight ahead at 10700 W. Escondido Canyon Road.  For more information call (661) 268-0840.

You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

For the complete MRCA hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, go to

SCV Outdoor Report: The Smell Of Fresh Earth

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