Background Aromas have been associated with physiological, psychological affective and behavioral effects. We tested whether effects of low-level exposure to two ambient food-related aromas (citrus and vanilla) could be measured with small numbers of subjects, low-cost physiological sensors and semi-real life settings. Tests included physiological (heart rate, physical activity and response times), psychological (emotions and mood) and behavioral (food choice) measures in a semi-real life environment for 22 participants. Results Exposure to ambient citrus aroma increased physical activity (P <0.05), shortened response times in young participants (P <0.05), decreased negative emotions (P <0.05), and affected food choice (P <0.05). Exposure to ambient vanilla aroma increased projected introvert emotions (P <0.05). All effects were small relative to estimated effect sizes. Conclusions The test battery used in this study demonstrated aroma-specific physiological, psychological and behavioral effects of aromas with similar appeal and intensities, and similar food-related origins. These effects could be measured in (semi-) real life environments for freely moving subjects using relatively inexpensive commercially available physiological sensors.