What do the Guadalupe Bass, the Paluxysaurus Jonesi, the prickly pear cactus, and the Texas bluebonnet have in common?
They’re all listed among the 76 official symbols of the Lone Star State. However, despite Texas making it a point to claim symbols ranging from an official state tie (the bolo tie) to a state domino game (42), some would argue that there are still blank spaces to fill on the roster.
While Texas has a near-comical number of state symbols compared to even its rivals in population, such as California’s 37 or Florida’s 21, its list isn’t the most unique. Its neighboring state of New Mexico not only stands as the only one to have an official state question, according to its Secretary of State website and state symbol databases, but in 2023 also became the first to designate an official state aroma – the smell of roasting green chiles.
With a state symbol list that already includes aromatic breads, cobblers, pastries, fruits and flowers, shouldn’t Texas have a state aroma as well?
MyHighPlains.com asked our audience to weigh in on what they think an official state smell of Texas should be and used those responses to compile a list of four popular options for consideration.
One of the most popular suggestions for a Texas state smell has been Texas BBQ, from racks of ribs to tender brisket with dark outer bark and a red smoke ring.
Often considered Texas’ most famous food, as noted by tourism bloggers, culinary critics and The National Magazine of Texas, Texas BBQ is actually a four-in-one of different cooking styles considered iconic for their specific regions:
Central Texas BBQ has a focus on its dry rub, with brisket around the Hill Country smoked over mesquite, oak, and hickory woods for up to 24 hours and served with white bread and sauce.
West Texas BBQ is considered in a “cowboy style” with chicken, sausage and ribs grilled over an open pit. While it uses mesquite wood, as per Texas custom, the high direct heat means faster cook times and less of a smoky flavor.
South Texas BBQ is a marriage of Mexican American traditions, as with many other iconic styles of South Texas cuisine and culture. The pits used for smoking brisket in South Texas BBQ are underground, or in ovens, for about 12 hours. Cheek or lengua, barbacoa, in this style is considered a necessary protein option for any authentically-Texan taco event.
East Texas BBQ is arguably the sauciest of the bunch, literally, with more of a focus on sauces, sides, and chopped meat for sandwiches. This style also uses more pork than other regions, with a particular favor toward pork ribs.
From a cowboy’s vest down to his belt, chaps, boots, and saddle, leather is a staple of the American West in both practicality and iconography. For Texas, a state whose existence is in large part due to agriculture and the cattle industry, leather has also become a symbol of identity.
As noted by the Texas State Historical Association, the state was once also the nation’s largest producer of hides, making leather production as it was in the U.S. in the 1800s and 1900s possible.
In that vein, whether it be from a grandfather’s saddle or an uncle’s work boots or the ambiance of a local rodeo, work-worn leather has become a particularly Texan scent for many.
Texas Sage and Texas Wildflowers
In what is arguably a natural continuation of Texas’s love for its numerous official plants and its State Botanical Garden, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, an assortment of Texas grasses and blooms were among suggestions for an iconic state smell.
Texas Sage and Texas Bluebonnets were the two top picks for plant-related state scents, though both of those already have their own state designations as the Texas State Native Shrub and the State Flower, respectively. Another runner-up was the smell of cactus blossoms, from the Texas State Plant – the Prickly pear cactus.
As many Texans can attest, spring and summer in many parts of the state mean the air is thick with heat, heavy with the humidity of roiling storms, and saturated with the smell of wildflowers blanketing the rolling hills and wide plains. Beloved for its sunsets and diverse scenery, the sight of a Texas horizon awash with vibrant color – from the blooming deserts of the Panhandle to the verdant twists and turns of the southeast – is iconic for both natives and visitors alike. With that, of course, also comes the visceral memory of the smells.
It tends to start with a breeze, and often when headed north of Lubbock – though it happens in pockets all across the Lone Star State.
With a gust and a sniff, there tends to be a familiar conversation. Was there a skunk? A smoking neighbor? A gas leak?
Maybe. However, within 100 miles of a dense collection of feedlots, the sour smell seeping into the morning air with a determination to linger for days at a time is most likely “the smell of money.”
Cow manure, at least in the High Plains, was by far the most-suggested Texas State Aroma. And while that may get a laugh in casual conversation, it isn’t that outlandish an option in the context of Texas history.
In a similar way to how the Texas cattle industry has brought some Texans to favor the smell of old leather, the driving force behind Texas’ agricultural life and economy has left a lasting olfactory presence on both natives and visitors. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Texas Historical Commission, Texas has the highest density of feedlots in the country as the leading state in beef cattle production.
From the railroad to the rodeo, cattle ranching has been at the center of Texas’s economic development, entertainment, and culture. Even before Texas had its name or its boundaries, Texas had buckaroos and cattle drives.
Even outside the cattle industry, as noted by the US Energy Information Administration, Texas is the largest consumer of natural gas in the country, and accounts for one-fourth of the nation’s natural gas production. Not only does the smell of gas production in the region often compound with the smell of cattle in the air, but small farmers and bigger industry groups in the last decade across the country have also been venturing into biogas production – the process of turning manure into methane fuel.
Altogether, whether it be as a possible ingredient for diesel or a natural aspect of producing meat products for a country, cow manure is undeniably also among the most iconic Texas smells – even if it might leave locals reaching for a cactus-scented air freshener.
Did the smell you think most represents Texas make the list?