Fragrant Roots and Neroli Macaroons

essential oil macaroonsThe British Society of Perfumers Annual One Day Symposium was held at Whittlebury Hall in Towcester again this May and had an accidental theme of fragrant roots – with two of the presentations focusing on a different kind of scented root accord unbeknownst to one another. One of the suppliers, Albert Vieille, also went beyond scent and served us delicious macaroons flavoured with essential oils of neroli, rose and mandarin which were perfectly accompanied by the Arabica Coffee Salvador alcoholic extract we smelled alongside them.

There is a perceived danger to hosting any kind of raw material-focused conference on a World Perfumery Congress year because suppliers will inevitably want to save their new launches for that (who wouldn’t?), but this did not cause any difficulties for the BSP ODS as every session managed to find ways to showcase existing materials, new production methods, or to introduce new variants to the UK market. One of the best things about going to these is the group smelling – sitting at a table (or walking around interactive demo sessions) with seasoned perfumers and sharing observations is like gold dust; you learn so much and find all kinds of inspiration and insight.

Wolfgang from BASF showed us a very well-known material, DL-menthol, which he nevertheless felt was unfairly neglected in perfume creations, and called it “the under-estimated baby of the industry.” His quips and style had the room guffawing away and every time I hear him give a presentation I feel a little bit wistful that he didn’t become a chemistry teacher because he would have inspired generations. On the other hand, I’m glad he didn’t because now I get to listen to his presentations at BSP events instead. We also smelled dihydrorosan in demo formulas – it really boosted fruity notes in unexpected ways.

Symrise took us through an interactive presentation where tables were laden with demo formulas showing off Jacinthaflor – an interesting white floral-type material which can bring indolic aspects to fragrances without the discolouration issues, Nerolione – as the name suggests, a high-impact ingredient for orange blossom creations and Irisnitrile – a diffusive iris note booster. I have come to accept that I adore iris scents of all kinds (am yet to encounter one that I don’t love) and the accords we experienced here had interesting cucumber and fresh facets and bloom which can sometimes lack from iris-type notes. It seems clever use of Irisnitrile can really add extra dimension to these accords.

If you think you know what cedarwood should smell like, I wish I could send you some of the Firmenich cedarwood oil Alaska through the screen because it took many of us by surprise – a sparkling grapefruit top with lots of smoky and aromatic nuances and no ‘pencil shavings’ feel. I’d love to create a masculine scent just around this material and expand every aspect. We were also shown Pepper Sichuan supercritical fluid extraction, Lilyflore, Ambrox Super and a Honey Signature base which is a blend of natural materials and synthetic captives. The honey note was so realistic that some visitors were overheard asking for a slice of toast to go with it.

And, to the next fragrant root – vetiver. Emerald Kalama Chemical showed us Azuril, Osyrol and Vetimoss (there is a clue in the molecule names to which one went into the vetiver accord) and we smelled demo formulas including blackwood and fantasy citrus. Vetiver is another one of my absolute favourite smells and I’d love to get a chance to experiment with vetimoss – there were many nuances besides straight-up vetiver that came out at me from the demo.

Pierre rolling out the red carpet

I caught Pierre personally rolling out the red carpet for the winner just before the gala dinner

If any of you follow Pierre the Perfumer on Twitter, you won’t be surprised to hear that he would be up to mischief at an entirely serious event such as the annual Perfumery Excellence Awards, and, indeed, this year he launched a whole new award: “Pierre the Perfumer Award for Most Daring Fragrance (in any category)”. The idea being that at least one of the awards should be for risk-taking in fragrance creation; putting products on the market with scents that have the potential to be divisive (many legends have been born from love-or-hate fragrances; even entire fragrance families). We asked our members to nominate and vote for all the awards in advance of the symposium which meant the awards could be engraved in time for the gala dinner. Want to know who won? Check out the winners at P&F online.

 

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Inside Fragrance

Laundry evaluation

Evaluating laundry care?

It’s been quite a week here at Volatile Fiction land (what a fun land would that be? I have a mental image of a fragrant theme park x Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory now. And, as it happens, there may be a reason those images were so readily available to my imagination).

I’ve been working behind-the-scenes for almost a year and a half to get to say: this week sees the launch of my new column, The Juice: Inside Fragrance at Perfumer & Flavorist. The May column is a two-parter with online and a print articles – and the June issue will feature a profile of a British perfumer whose career is truly unique and fascinating. The Juice will run in Perfumer & Flavorist monthly and, as with this week’s column, there will occasionally be online articles popping up, too.

The first (set of) Juice column(s) is about fragrance evaluation. It’s a bit of a hidden career in the fragrance industry and is a fascinating blend of fragrance expertise, project management, communication and many other skills.

What does a fragrance evaluator do?

Evaluators work with perfumers, sales, marketing and laboratory teams to make sure that the right fragrances are selected and created for customers. The job involves keeping up-to-date with fragrance trends and being able to effectively communicate about smells. Sometimes evaluators also conduct consumer panels and focus groups. They usually manage the internal fragrance library and may be assigned to a specific product category or to just one customer.

Smelling with perfumers and being able to offer useful, objective feedback about the technical aspects and overall impression of the fragrance are at the heart of the job. Good evaluators form strong teams with the perfumers they work with and perfumers appreciate the objectivity and organisation that evaluators bring to fragrance creation.

In leading fragrance houses, evaluators choose the perfumers for each fragrance brief, task the perfumers and project manage the project’s course.

It is possible to work your way up from other roles in the company to a trainee or a junior evaluator, or enter into the role directly with some relevant external qualifications or experience. Initial training takes one to two years, depending on previous experience and the fragrance company in question.

Skills and qualities of a good evaluator:
• Passionate about fragrance
• Excellent interpersonal skills
• Confident communicator
• Balanced judgement
• Diligence; attention to detail
• Project management
• Ability to make sense of vast amounts of data and interpret it for others
• Highly organised (evaluators are in charge of the company fragrance library)
• Experience of the consumer fragrance market; knowledge of trends and product categories

Givaudan

Expertise is relative and everyone has their own areas of excellence. I seem to have a knack for hoovering up lots of information and communicating it to others. I’m also interested in fragrance and everything about it (ok, obsessed). It is inevitable I have learned a lot along the way. A great deal of the learning has been quite deliberate and hard-earned by study and practical experience. I still don’t consider myself an expert (daily access to the true experts of the industry – research chemists, senior perfumers with decades of experience and many more walking perfume encyclopaedias besides is a great constant reminder of just how little I really know).

But I know more than the ‘earlier me’ 10, 15 years ago. And that’s who I’m writing these blogs and ODOU articles and Basenotes features for. The trade writing blossomed out of that almost by accident – but the real driving force was always to somehow get more information and insight out there to people who don’t know about the careers available in fragrance but would thrive in them if only they did.

I also like to myth-bust a little bit. Not to the detriment of storytelling and marketing (I like to be taken along on an evocative ride, too, and part of the pleasure of buying an everyday product with a hint of luxury like a fabric conditioner with an exotic scent – or an actual luxury product like fine fragrance – is that you want the whole experience – the courting, the dating, the flowers; the lot).

I like to myth-bust the chemophobia and the utter nonsense out there. And to illuminate who makes these fragrances and how. I like to show how passionate these people are about the tiniest details, what lengths they go to for that perfect scent, how much thought is put into something that could end up in a hand wash. I think that’s brilliant. Never mind all the wonderful fine fragrance perfumery – all the artistry, poetry and creativity and bloody hard work that goes into it. As much as I like to get taken along for the ride and seduced by marketing as the next consumer, I do occasionally wish perfume marketing wasn’t so quick to rely on the old tropes of tits and ass. I guess it’s an important aspect of what makes perfume appealing and why people wear it but sometimes it feels like marketers and brands forget it’s not the only one.

The stories on the large corporate and tiniest artisan side to be told are in their thousands and really fascinating. I am going to be able to tell you at least a few of them over the coming months. But I also love it that there are so many great people quietly squirreling away, making your homes smell like a tropical forest and people whose whole life is devoted to making sure that the towels come out of your specific brand of washing machine smelling just right.

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Laundry care evaluation is a little bit more serious at Givaudan.

I don’t like to make things easy for myself, so I’ve based the majority of my fragrance articles on primary research. What this means is that I’ve interviewed people face-to-face – mostly in person (sometimes over Skype). Email interviews do happen but I don’t like them. This has resulted in a lot of travel and interviews conducted in the offices and meeting rooms of fragrance houses, posh London hotels, coffee shops, people’s homes and many more locations besides. This week I travelled to France to tour Givaudan’s Paris sites and interview several people in one, intense day. I was also happy to finally meet a long-time reader of this blog there and receive a great gift for a bookworm-perfume nerd: Givaudan’s new perfume book which weaves their story with global perfume history and some philosophical musings about perfumery and flavour.
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I spent some time with the Givaudan perfumery school director and students – and will be writing about that soon – will let you know where.

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Givaudan perfumery school

Easter Sundae Interlude

You’ll forgive me for the pun once I share the recipe for this Easter-themed chocolate sundae with you. It combines the tart juicyness of pears with chocolate liqueur and malted chocolate.

Green & Blacks chocolate ice cream has a slightly malted flavour and goes particularly well here. My favourite chocolate liqueur is the Mozart one but I had an unopened bottle of Bailey’s limited edition chocolate liqueur here instead, so that’s what I used (and can report that it was very tasty in this context indeed).

You need pear quarters in fruit juice (or halves, then cut them to smaller pieces yourself), chocolate ice cream, chocolate liqueur (chocolate sauce if making for kids or alcohol-free friends), good-quality whipped cream, something crunchy on top (I used edible golden flakes to evoke the colours of white daffodils) and some kind of chocolate wafer (mine was a Malteaster Bunny because Easter Sunday).

1. Pick out four pear quarters from the juice, drain, place in a fanned shape at the bottom of the sundae glass.
2. Pour chocolate liqueur or sauce on top until the pears are covered
3. Add two scoops of chocolate ice cream
4. Add whipped cream
5. Add gold flakes and bunny

Regular readers know that I have a bit of a thing about ice cream (we do go to Fortnum’s on the perfume tours a lot and I enjoy making sundaes for visitors). Here’s a lemon meringue recipe if you’re looking for more.

Happy Easter!

Aino’s Swede Casserole

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I was asked to rummage through my Christmas smell memories for the Scented Letter this month and in doing so, also rummaged through every old photo album I have here with me in the UK.

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Although I did find a few Christmas photos that weren’t completely humiliating, what I actually ended up spending more time on, were pictures of my maternal grandmother Aino, and of us together.

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Aino grew vegetables, berries and flowers at our summer cottage and she adored flowers in particular.

We had dog rose, jasmine, pansies, lilies, geraniums and many more in abundance in every available spot. It’s no wonder that my first word was “kukka” (Finnish for “flower” – reportedly uttered as I went for Aino’s pansy border).

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As soon as I could manage it, Aino took me along for her walks to gather wild flowers and that became a kind of tradition over the years.
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The teenage me would kill me for posting this.

Aino was a Karelian refugee who came over to Finland at the age of 2 and lived at a time when one had to know how to do everything from scratch. Sometimes we don’t realise how spoiled we are.

She taught me how to make Karelian pasties, sourdough rye bread and many basic Finnish dishes. Many of these lessons took place at the summer cottage where we did not have electricity and the cooking was done on a wood-fired range and the bread was baked in the wood-heated oven at the sauna dressing room. I learned how to light the fires and brush out the coals and how dry birch bark makes the best kindling.

Aino’s cooking and baking wasn’t highly decorative but it was incredibly tasty. The post-war mentality of adding sugar, butter and cream to most things helped quite a bit there.

I still sometimes make the traditional Finnish Christmas dish lanttulaatikko (swede casserole), which used to be one of Aino’s masterpieces. My mother attempted to extract the recipe from her but Aino was not one for writing down instructions so the only way to save the recipe was to follow her and pay attention. Alas, my mother was not a detail person and the recipe she produced as a result of this exercise ended up somewhat chaotic and scribbled (main image). The various annotations in different colour pens are clarifications and dire warnings (“NOT TOO MUCH WATER!”) after years of attempts to get it right.

If you would like to have a go at making Aino’s lanttulaatikko, you’ll need a deep casserole dish and a large saucepan.

Aino’s lanttulaatikko

  • 2 medium swedes
  • A generous tablespoonful of wheat flour (or dried breadcrumbs)
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 100ml of syrup (the one we used is Dan Sukker golden syrup which is available here from Ocado)
  • 1/2 tsp of allspice
  • 1 egg
  • 100ml of cream
  • 1 tbsp of butter

Chop the swedes and boil until cooked in little water. Add the salt to the cooking water. Mash the swedes in their water (careful not to have too much water). Add the flour and mix well. Then add the syrup and mix well – leave to sweeten for at least two hours (you can get the dish this far the night before and add the remaining ingredients and bake the following day. If you do this, lift the saucepan into the fridge for the  night. This is what I do and the extra sweetening time really helps).

Heat the oven to 150°C.

Add the remaining ingredients just before baking. Pour all of the mixture into the deep casserole dish. You can attempt to make some nice patterns with a fork on the surface if you’re feeling artistic. Bake for approximately two hours.

Goes extremely well with baked ham, roast chicken, sprouts and lingonberry jam.

 

Read this month’s Scented Letter for more: IMG_3094.PNG

Long Lost Smell

Long Lost Smell

If you’ve been reading perfume forums, you’ll have seen the word ‘anosmia’ used casually (a little bit like a sad person might use ‘depressed’ or someone with a headache might use ‘migraine’). There are, of course, specific anosmias (many people can’t smell certain synthetic musks, for example). Total anosmia is a complete loss of smell. Being truly nose-blind.

The scary thing is that it can happen to anyone. A head injury, car accident, bad cold – and your nerves could get so damaged you lose your sense of smell permanently (or worse: get parosmia, where all smells are distorted so that food might taste of excrement and common smells like coffee might make you feel sick, so being in public places suddenly becomes pure torture). Smell and taste are part of the same system – when we eat, the majority of what we think of as taste is actually smell. Aromatic compounds are inhaled through our nose and throat. You can get a glimpse of what eating with no sense of smell feels like if you think back to a time when you had a very bad cold. The loss you experienced temporarily was not complete and that was bad enough to make all the food you ate taste bland.

Why don’t we see sniffer dogs like there are seeing-eye dogs? Why aren’t there TV ads for smell disorder charities? Smell has traditionally been treated by society as banal and unimportant. It has been thought of as ‘animal’ – ergo, not civilised. It has been ignored by governments because if a person loses their sense of smell, they can still work (whereas a blind or a deaf person might not be able to without special help).

Most of us are not really conscious of our sense of smell and even in the perfume communities where people have started thinking about smells more actively, we tend to focus on the hedonistic side of the sense – comparing our impressions and trying to work out what our favourite perfume is made of.

You know that smell they add to gas so humans can detect a leak? An anosmic person would not be made any safer by that. You know how you sniff milk before you pour it into a cup of tea? An anosmic person would not be able to tell if it’s off.

When I was a little girl (6 or 7 years old), I was playing in the second floor bedroom of my friend’s house while her mum was supposed to be watching us. For some inexplicable reason she decided to pop to the shops while we were in her care, and accidentally left a pot boiling on the gas stove.

I suspect that I’ve always been hypersensitive to certain sensory stimuli because there have been many times I’ve smelled or noticed something before anyone around me has. This was luckily one of those times. I smelled smoke and told my playmate about it. She didn’t smell anything and didn’t want to take a look. I insisted, and went downstairs. There was smoke billowing from under the kitchen door. I screamed for my friend and we ran out of the house, leaving the front door open. A neighbour called the fire brigade and took us in.

There are people who are anosmic from birth. Someone with this condition would have been trapped on the second floor of that burning house and may not have made it.

It is said that when we fall in love, we really fall for someone’s smell. Our sense of smell is very important in mate selection. When we kiss, we’re smelling each other. Imagine – what would it be like to never to be able to smell your partner? Your children?

Fifth Sense Logo

There have been charities and support for other sensory loss for decades. Fifth Sense, a charity for people with smell and taste disorders was founded in 2012 and is working to raise awareness of the impact that such conditions have on people’s quality of life and support further research in this area.

Obviously I think this is very important work – not just because of my profession, but because I think there needs to be more awareness of this issue, and much more help for those affected.

Fifth Sense is running an awareness campaign, and they have declared 27th of February as Anosmia Awareness Day. Basenotes will be participating on the day, The Perfume Society‘s Scented Letter has featured Louise Woollam who lost her sense of smell following a cold (and the Guardian will be interviewing her on the 28th of February).

Fifth Sense Founder Duncan Boak is delivering a talk at the ‘Body and the City’ symposium at Goldsmiths College on 27th February. His talk, entitled ‘Connecting Through Smell’, will focus on how the sense of smell forms a crucial emotive connection to the world around us.

Volunteers are also delivering Anosmia Awareness Day leaflets to doctors’ surgeries.

What can we do?

Please donate (even a small amount) on the Fifth Sense donation page.

Please tweet, InstaGram and Facebook about the Anosmia Awareness Day and what you would miss most if you lost your sense of smell, using the hashtag #LongLostSmell – some of your posts will appear on the Fifth Sense Storify page.

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Let’s raise awareness of this important issue!

BSP One Day Symposium 2014

I was at the 32nd BSP One Day Symposium last week, and it was a day packed with interesting materials and interesting conversations. When perfume raw material manufacturers show off their latest creations, it’s not too unlike a fashion show. The models (example products) are fitted out with the new outfits (new materials), and the audience (perfumers, buyers, evaluators, competitors…) gathers to admire, and learn more. And, like with haute couture, not everyone is in the position to buy the new creations straight away, and must wait until they filter down to the High Street (run out of patent and are made in bulk by others). The metaphor is somewhat wobbly, but it’s the best way I can explain the frustration of being shown a wonderful new material by a big company, only to know that the minimum pack size is 25kg (or 180kg!), and that our use of it would probably not justify such a purchase. Alas! All is not lost, because many of the presentations were also of materials entirely within reach. I orderd a few samples for our lab, and look forward to trying them out in development formulas.

What tends to happen, particularly with potent aroma chemicals (not usually with naturals), is that the perfume ingredient manufacturers create “demo formulas” – fragrance formulas representative of the scents one would find in the product category intended for the raw material. The demo formulas are then embellished with the new material(s), sometimes at different dosages, to show what effect the material has on the fragrance. There is a ‘blank’ demo formula, with none of the (new) material in it, and one or more examples which contain the (new) material(s). We were shown examples of fabric conditioners, shampoos, soaps and lotions with both Symrise and PFW.

Both presentations were engaging, and Symrise always goes out of their way to represent their ‘haute couture’ in a highly polished way (I may be able to show you their videos at a later date if I get hold of them, so more on that to follow). PFW, on the other hand, played a trick on us, and it was such a clever way of showing off a material that I won’t say more about it, should they wish to repeat the performance elsewhere (so no spoilers). PFW was also celebrating its 100th anniversary and we all had some cake during the coffee break. PFW’s own mascot, Pierre the Perfumer was there, too, of course (unfortunately I did not get a photo).

Natural raw materials tend to be shown au naturelle (pardon the pun), though the people from Axxence had set their natural aromas in coloured gel suspension, which was a safe and pleasant way to show them off. Their natural methyl anthranilate and natural indole were my particular favourites; so smooth. As an aside, sniffing and admiring the indole led to a conversation around our table, of how at one point or another, we’d all stopped thinking of indole as a ‘bad’ smell. Once you’ve been working with it for a while, your brain constructs the flower around it when you smell it in isolation. Whether you’ve been working with orange blossom, jasmine or any white flower accords, indole will have become a close ally. The synthetic version has more of a harsh mothball nuance, whereas the natural (which I smelled for the first time at this event) was much softer. I suppose it’s a fun marketing tactic to tell a sort of horror story of “ooh, aah, guess what, the jasmine you love so much contains a chemical that is also found in faeces” and watch the audience cringe; I’ll admit to having done that, too. Nevertheless, it’s nowhere near the worst material in the perfumer’s palette (never mind what the flavourists have to work with – some of the flavour raw materials are absolutely horrific; various meat, fish and cheese flavours are made up using indescribably obnoxious chemicals).

We also saw some beautiful naturals from Floral Concept, and Omega Ingredients. I was charmed by the rather animalic orange blossom absolute from Floral Concept (and I’ll admit, I seem to have developed a thing for animalic notes), and the cascarilla bark from Omega was so fascinating, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since.

Penny Williams from Orchadia/The International Perfume Acedemy was also there. I am currently 1/3 of the way through her IFRA course. She provides a unique blend of consultancy and set training courses, some of which can be done via distance-study.

I didn’t stay for the dinner, but perhaps next year I ought to; it always feels like there is not enough time to finish all the conversations which start in-between presentations. The next big event in the fragrance industry calendar is IFEAT, Rome (and a lucky colleague is attending that one!).

Lemon Meringue Sundae Interlude

A delicious lemon meringue ice cream sundaeHere’s a recipe for a lemon meringue sundae I just whipped up. It’s been hot, sweaty and humid for a while and our patio door is still open at night; a brief few hours of cool breeze. Please note that I’m not complaining – last summer in Britain was like living underwater.

Lemon Meringue Sundae

Ingredients

  1. Limoncello
  2. Thin cut orange marmalade
  3. Good-quality lemon sorbet
  4. The best vanilla ice cream you can find
  5. Mini meringue shells
  6. Whipped cream and decorations to taste

Method

  1. Mix one part limoncello and two parts marmalade into a sauce
  2. Pour a spoonful of sauce at the bottom
  3. Place one scoop of lemon sorbet on top
  4. Place three mini meringue shells upside down on top of that
  5. Pour the rest of the sauce over the meringue shells
  6. Scoop out one more ball of lemon sorbet and place on top
  7. Scoop out a ball of vanilla and place next to it
  8. Top with whipped cream and decorations to taste
  9. Serve immediately

This is a deliciously tangy and refreshing dessert for hot days. Ideal perfume to wear whilst enjoying it: Eau de Shalimar.

Lemon_meringue_sundae_main_ingredientsI used Luxardo Limoncello, mini meringue shells, lemon sorbet and marmalade from Waitrose (but Sainsbury’s lemon sorbet is also good and any nice marmalade will do). Kelly’s clotted cream ice cream tastes very similar to home-made ice cream and suits this concept very well. You could also try anything that isn’t too heavily vanilla-flavoured; you’ll need something creamy.