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.


Our blood cells have odourant receptors – what could this mean?

Blood cells by Bruce Wetzel and Harry Schaefer via Wikimedia Commons

Blood cells by Bruce Wetzel and Harry Schaefer via Wikimedia Commons

There is still so much we don’t understand about how our sense of smell works and a recent report on the findings of Peter Schieberle, Ph.D., suggests things are even weirder than we thought.

Our team recently discovered that blood cells – not only cells in the nose – have odorant receptors,” said Schieberle. “In the nose, these so-called receptors sense substances called odorants and translate them into an aroma that we interpret as pleasing or not pleasing in the brain. But surprisingly, there is growing evidence that also the heart, the lungs and many other non-olfactory organs have these receptors. And once a food is eaten, its components move from the stomach into the bloodstream. But does this mean that, for instance, the heart ‘smells’ the steak you just ate? We don’t know the answer to that question.”

What does this mean? We don’t know yet. Why would our blood cells need odorant receptors? Does this discovery offer any insight into why our flavour preferences differ?

The implications for flavourists and food technologists could be huge. The way we perceive foods depends on not only flavour and olfactory signals, but on texture, temperature and colour of the foods.

For example, baked beans and beans in foods like chili provide a “full,” rich mouth-feel. Adding the component of beans responsible for this texture to another food could give it the same sensation in the mouth, Schieberle explained. Natural components can also interact with substances in foods to create new sensations.

This research was presented on the 7th of April at the 245th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical society.

Read the Science Daily report here.

Scent, safety and seduction

Burlington House, Royal Society of Chemistry

Burlington House, Royal Society of Chemistry

I attended the “Scentsory Question Time” organised by the British Society of Perfumers in January. Many people might not be aware that these events are open to the general public, so if you are interested in perfumery or chemistry, it’s worth keeping an eye on the event calendars of the BSP and RSC. The evening covered many topics around scent and perfumery; from our reptilian brains to fragrance safety and the controversial role of IFRA in the industry. If you want to read what happened, head over to Basenotes to read the report.

“The discussion inevitably turned into whether it’s possible to design a scent to attract the opposite sex.

Lisa Hipgrave (IFRA UK) mentioned some interesting immunology studies that have shown correlation between scent preferences and types of immunity genes expressed in the individual, leading us to seek out a partner whose own smell we find most appealing. It is therefore better for us to seek fragrances which gently enhance our natural odour fingerprint – if we’re on the pull, that is.”

Actually, the first time I learned about these immunology studies was at a BSP annual symposium, where Craig Roberts of the University of Liverpool gave an engaging and surprising talk to us about the so-called “Lynx Effect”. He had conducted research which showed that the way in which female participants rated the sexual attractivemess of men was affected by how confident the scent made the man feel. The women could only see visual images. They couldn’t smell the men.

This goes to show that in some ways, the “Lynx Effect” is real – alas, not necessarily because of the way the product smells, but because of the incredibly successful brand image and advertising campaigns. If you feel confident and sexy, your appearance and body language matches this and the potential partners out there will rate you as more attractive.

Craig also told us about the immunology studies where his team had analysed body odour fingerprints (we all have a unique one) and compared these to the way in which the genes of our immune system are expressed. If you find someone’s personal body odour very attractive, it’s likely that their immune system is compatible with yours and you would produce a healthier offspring.

The Economist ran a good article on this:

As long ago as the 1950s, a perfumer called Paul Jellinek noted that several ingredients of incense resembled scents of the human body. It was not until 2001, however, that Manfred Milinski and Claus Wedekind of the University of Bern wondered whether there was a correlation between the perfume a woman preferred and her own natural scent. They found that there is.

The correlation is with the genes of what is known as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). This region of the genome encodes part of the immune system. It turns out that one of the most important aspects of mate choice in mammals, humans included, is to make sure that your mate’s MHC is different from your own. Mixing up MHCs makes the immune system more effective. The MHC is also thought to act as a proxy for general outbreeding, with all the hybrid vigour that can bring. Fortunately, then, evolution has equipped mammals with the ability to detect by smell chemicals whose concentrations vary with differences in the MHC of the producer.

That means people are able to sniff out suitable MHC genomes in prospective partners. A woman, for instance, will prefer the smell of T-shirts that have been worn by men whose MHC genes are appropriately different from her own. Dr Milinski and Dr Wedekind also found an association between a woman’s MHC genes and some of her preferences for perfume. Perception of musk, rose and cardamom is correlated with the MHC. Perception of castoreum and cedar is not.

Women, it seems, choose not the kind of smell they would like on a partner, or even one that might mask a nasty odour of their own, but rather something that matches their MHC. In other words, they are advertising their own scent.

We should all look for scents that enhance our natural odour in a good way. This is one of the many reasons why trying perfume on the skin and wearing it for a while is the best way to find the right scent for you.

Of course this raises one worry from a commercial point of view: is it ever a good idea to buy someone perfume as a present if they don’t already know and love the scent?

A glimpse into the inner workings of Givaudan

Not all perfume enthusiasts are aware that most of the events organised by the British Society of Perfumers are open to the general public. I like to attend as many lectures and events as I can, but even though I can’t personally make next week’s “Ethical Sourcing for Perfumery: Nice or Necessity” at the Royal Society of Chemistry, it could be a really fascinating evening out if you want to get a glimpse inside the perfume industry and into the inner workings of its largest player, Givaudan.

Herve Fretay, Givaudan (via Persolaise)

Herve Fretay, Givaudan (via Persolaise)

I must also admit that part of the reason I’d like to be there even though I can’t, is that the presenter, Herve Fretay, who I had the pleasure of meeting in one of Odette Toilette’s events, is utterly charming.

During the evening he will be talking about ethically sourcing natural perfume ingredients for Givaudan – and it’s obvious that this will be a little bit of an advertorial for the company, but you will still learn a lot and enjoy the evening if the topic interests you.

One day I’ll blog about how to get into the perfume industry but for the time being, I can share one of the tips with you right now: be curious. Attend events and talk to people who are passionate about the topic. You will learn so much and meet many interesting people. It used to be much harder to break into the industry but one does not have to be a native French speaker, male, a chemistry major or born into a family of perfumers these days to get involved (although all of the above would help immensely).

The British Society of Perfumers celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. “Ethical Sourcing for Perfumery: Nice or Necessity” is on Thursday the 7th of February.