SUMMARY Animals are often immersed in a chemical world consisting of mixtures of many compounds rather than of single substances, and they constantly face the challenge of extracting relevant information out of the chemical landscape. To this purpose, the ability to discriminate among different stimuli with different valence is essential, but it is also important to be able to generalise, i.e. to treat different but similar stimuli as equivalent, as natural variation does not necessarily affect stimulus valence. Animals can thus extract regularities in their environment and make predictions, for instance about distribution of food resources. We studied perceptual similarity of different plant odours by conditioning individual carpenter ants to one odour, and subsequently testing their response to another, structurally different odour. We found that asymmetry in generalisation, where ants generalise from odour A to B, but not from B to A, is dependent on both chain length and functional group. By conditioning ants to a binary mixture, and testing their reaction to the individual components of the mixture, we show that overshadowing, where parts of a mixture are learned better than others, is rare. Additionally, generalisation is dependent not only on the structural similarity of odorants, but also on their functional value, which might play a crucial role. Our results provide insight into how ants make sense of the complex chemical world around them, for example in a foraging context, and provide a basis with which to investigate the neural mechanisms behind perceptual similarity.