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Bergamot

Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) is one of the most important perfume materials, being a key component in almost all fragrance categories. Bergamot is more floral than any other raw material that comes from a citrus rind, and goes with anything and everything: You’ll find it in Citrus and Colognes (naturally) Florals, Florientals, Orientals, Fougère including Marine/Oceanic, and of course Chypre, where it is a key component including even the Chypre Leathery/Tobacco fragrances. Bergamot is diffusive, elegant, balanced and quite complex - a trait that is rarely found in the fleeting top notes. 

Please note that the “t” is pronounced at the end - bergamot is not French, but an Italian word, not French. And even the French, who like to eliminate the last sounds of letters with an invisible linguistic guillotine pronounce this name as “ber-ga-mott”. 

In the 18th Century, little papier-maché boxes called “Bergamotes” were made in Grasse. They were scented with pieces of bergamot peel, a custom that lasted only till about 1830. In Spain, bergamot peels are still used to make tabachieres (snuff boxes). In the process of making them, the peels are flipped inside out, so that the tobacco kept inside the box becomes flavoured with the cured bergamot’s aroma. 
Begramot essential oil is also important in flavour - especially to make Earl Grey tea, one of the most popular aromatized black tea blends (typically orange pekoe), sometimes with the addition of lavender, and even vanilla (in Cream Earl Grey). I wonder if this custom is related to keeping tea leaves inside similar orange boxes. In any case, such an experiment would be worth trying, and this practice is not foreign to the world of tea: There is a special type of Chinese white tea that is kept inside tiny dried mandarin orange “boxes” that were hollowed out of their pulp. 

Bergamot is not your usual citrus note. It is more floral, complex and warm than most citrus, not quite as tangy or fruity, and can be described as spicy-warm in comparison other typical citrus notes. Bergamot has a dry, floral, peppery, a little woody, more floral/lavender like than the rest of the citrus oils. There is also a green aspect to it, which is soft rather than sharp, and with hints of herbal and balsamic undertones, and tea-like qualities, which are not unlike Clary sage.

Around 300 molecules have been identified in this complex citrus oil! 30-60% Linalyl aceatate (30-60%), linalool (11-22%), Citral, alcohols, sesqueterpenes, alkanes, furanocoumarin (bergapten at 0.30-0.39%) the latter being the constituent that gives it its most distinct characteristic, and also creates the phototoxic risk. 

Bergamot is most frequently associated with tea, not just because it is used to flavour Earl Grey tea (an aromatized black tea infused with bergamot essential oil, and sometimes also lavender) — but also because of the high linalyl acetate content, which has a clear, elegant, floral-green tea-like quality (this molecule is also found in large amounts in lavender, petitgrain bigarade and clary sage oils). 

While bergamot shares some similarities with lemon, the latter is more acidic and fresh; and also even though both are top notes — bergamot is longer lasting than lemon, which evaporates rapidly. Bergamot develops into a bitter orange scent after an hour or so. The citrus aroma of lemon-orange (from limonene) does not reveal itself until the dry down (about 30 minutes or more after dipping the scent strip). Bergamot is softer, closer to neroli and petitgrain, and with an elegant, dry floralcy that is reminiscent of grapefruit as well (yet without the sulphurous qualities). 
Bergamot is one of the most sought-after citrus oil. It’s versatility and sparkle is invaluable. It is used in citrus eaux as well as a top note for floral, woody and oriental compositions. But perhaps its most intriguing role is in the original formulas of Chypre – where it was used to contrast the mossy, earthy-sweet notes of oakmoss and labdanum to create the many seamless compositions that this fragrance family includes. It is also a key component in the ambreine accord, where it is juxtaposed against vanilla, vanillin or ethyl vanillin. 

Bergamot blends well with almost all oils. Its citrusy and floral aroma makes it a very versatile note. It blends particularly well with: Black Pepper, Rose, Jasmine, Neroli, Orange Blossom Absolute, Orange Flower Water Absolute, Vanilla, Benzoin, Lavender, Juniper, Oakmoss, Labdanum. 


Caution: Please note that bergamot is highly phototoxic! If you are using this oil for skincare or body care (leave-on products such as body oil, massage oil, creams, lotions, etc.) please opt for bergapten free oils, labeled as “FCF” (which stands for “furano-coumarin-free”). However, the FCF oil loses a lot of the character, and is best avoided for fine perfumery. It really does not do bergamot any justice… Because bergamot is so common in so many fragrance categories, it would be best advised to never wear perfume of any kind on areas that will be exposed to the sun or tanning lights. Perfume should be worn on pulse-points that don't typically see the day of lights - behind the ears, on the wrists. Think twice if you apply perfume to any other area (i.e.: bend of the elbows and knees, on the chest, etc.) and hit the beach or the pool. You may get a burn if you do so. So either cover up those areas or avoid wearing fragrance before getting out sunbathing.

Examples for perfumes with dominant bergamot note: Shalimar, Chypre, MitsoukoCharismaEspionage, Moon Breath, ArbitRary, Fetish and more. 

Artemisia: Plant of Many Moons


“After the first glass you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” (Oscar Wilde about "The Green Fairy" AKA Absinthe)

Artemisia is a genus of hundreds of species of plants from the compositeae (AKA asteraceae) family. It derives its name from Artemis, the Greek Goddess of the hunt, the woodlands and the moon. In folk medicine, it is considered a feminine plant, with protective powers to guard over witch's gardens, and healing properties especially in relation to the uterus. Hence the connection to Artemis: among the many duties of the virgin Goddess was to assist women in childbirth, and also she is considered the bringer of women ailment and also the one who heals from them.

Overwhelmingly bitter, artemisia is mentioned in the Bible seven times, as a symbol for extreme bitterness and suffering. Artemisia is used to flavour the notorious (and for the longest time, forbidden) Absinthe: due to suspicions about the thujone content being responsible for neurotoxicity and hallucinogenic effects, it was banned in many countries from around 1912-2007 (each country has its own strange relationship with this spirit, and all fingers pointed the blame on the flavouring plant, rather than the unusually high alcohol content, around 70%) . In those who do produce it, the level of artemisia is still often strictly controlled and regulated, despite the fact that scientific data shows that Artemisia absthinthum does not have a dangerous or toxic level of thujone.
Like most members of the compositeae family, it has an intensity that is almost cloying (compare to other species, such as Artemisia dracunculus, AKA tarragon; Artemisia pallens, AKA Davana, immortelle/helicrysum, marigold/tagetes and chamomile) has an intense, cloying medicinal aroma that is overwhelming in large quantities. 
Several closely related species such as A. alba, A. vulgaris, A. absinthium, A. arborescens all have the characteristic bitter flavour and intense aroma, silvery fronds and similar uses. Mugwort or Armoise, which is really the French word for Artemisia - both usually refer to Artemisia vulgaris.  Artemisias have a potent, herbaceous and bitter presence. In very minute quantities, it can have a surprising effect in perfumes, especially when paired with very sweet florals and sweet balsamic bases. Its use in perfume is mainly in Fougère compositions, where it works beautifully with the lavender, oakmoss and coumarin, adding another layer of bitter herbaceous quality.

Artemisia in Magic and Folk Medicine:
Wormwood (Artemisia arborescens) is one of the important monastery herbs, and is found wild in Israel near ancient Crusaders' forts, i.e. the Monforte (a Hospiteral fort by Kziv creek in Israel). Therefore it is believed that the crusaders brought it with them to plant in their own "monastery gardens" by these fortresses. Curiously, it is now one of the fragrant herbs planted in Muslim cemeteries, because it is believed that a good scent would be pleasing to the angels that judge the souls of the deceased.

Artemisia herb-alba is native to the Negev in Israel, and the bedouins in the desert used it as a general antiseptic, vermifuge, and antispasmodic. Also, it was used to treat diabetics, because its intense bitterness was believed to balance the excess of sugar and stimulate the liver and pancreas (much like other bitter herbs, such as germander, sage, etc.).


Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), AKA cronewort is a nerve tonic and a digestive tonic (stimulated bile production), increases menstrual bleeding, and to deal with pulmonary diseases and disturbances.
Mugwort is regarded as a plant with protective powers, and was planted in witch's gardens to guard them - as well as to announce them as medicine women and midwives - either as a plant in the garden, or in a planted pot or even painting on the door of urban witches. Mugwort and lavender are used together in dream pillows to balance their opposing actions of alertness/relaxation. This particular plant has broader leaves that are green on top and have a silvery underside (not all silver like the wormwood or absinthe plants). This silveriness alludes to the connection to the moon, and also wisdom of the crone.


Coastal mugwort (Artemisia suksdorfii) and Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) are used by First Nations in British Columbia (and the West Coast in general) to cleanse and purify the space in smudging ceremonies. It is interesting to note that cedar leaf, which has a very high thujone content, is used in the same manner. It was used as a prevent infections in wounds, for athlete's foot, as a headache remedy, and to stop internal bleeding. A. tridentata has most camphor, terpionoids and tannins, and its smoke was used to tan hides by the Okanagan's first nations people. Another type of mugwort, Coastal Sagebrush, AKA California Sagebrush (A. californica), is used in very similar ways to mugwort (A. vulgaris), to treat respiratory complaints (including coughs, colds and asthma), for pain relief (sprains, reumatism, muscle pain and more), to ease menstrual cramps, and assist during child birth. Its pain relief properties are powerful - applied as a liniment, it is much more effective and safer than opioid painkillers, and can even relief the intense pain from broken bones. 

Chinese medicine uses Moxibustion during acupuncture treatment, in which the practitioner would burn A. moxa as well as A. argyi on top of the needles which warms them up, and is supposed to activate the qi and strengthen the body. It is considered to help improve blood supply to the pelvic area, and also promote fertility. Chinese mugwort (A. argyi) is used by traditional Chinese medicine doctors mostly to treat women - to stop bleeding during mensuration, pregnagney or postpartum; but also to promote mensuration (many types of artemisias are used as emmenagogues). The essential oil is used to treat asthma, coughs and other respiratory issues via spraying at the back of the throat. The essential oil was proven to have antiseptic properties against several bacteria. 

A. apiaceae is another species that grows in China and when dried is used to treat vertigo, cold sweats and high fever. The flowers are used for treating headaches and for joint pain relief.

In Japan, yomogi heating pads filled with Japanese mugwort are used to keep the crotch area warm and cozy (I'm still trying to figure out when would that be actually comfortable), and yomogi water bottles are used for warming the pelvis in general and ease pelvic pain.  

Artemisia in Medicine:
The two main species that have known in the West for their medicinal value are the A. herba-alba (native to North Africa, and also grows wild in the deserts of Israel) and A. arborescens (also grows wild in Israel). Their high santonin content makes them especially effective against intestinal worms. They are also used to treat other digestive complaints such as stomach ache and nauseae, as well as colds, coughs, etc. 
Artemisia arborescens (Sheeba in Arabic) is native to the Mediterranean region and is enjoyed with black tea, especially in the wintertime, throughout North Africa and in Israel. derives its synonym wormwood from its ability to chase away worms from the digestive system. 
A. absinthium is a European artemisia, used in folk medicine to strengthen the body, ease digestion, reduce fever and remove intestinal worms. 
A. annua contains artemisinin, is the current most effective drug to treat Plasmodium falciparum malaria
A. capillaris has sedative-hypnotic effects, some say as strong as that of cannabis. Newer discoveries regarding artemisia show that thujone affects GABA levels and uptake in the brain, and acts very much like THC in cannabis does. 


Artemisia in Food and Flavour:
Artemisia has a strong medicinal flavour, and is mostly drank as a medicinal or warming and energizing winter tea in North Africa and among the Moroccan Jews in Israel. It is also drank as a beneficial tea with the name Yomogi and Ssuk in Japan and Korea respectively.
Kusa mochi (literally means "grass mochi") is a seasonal Japanese pastry for spring, which is flavoured with mugwort (it is softened with baking soda to remove some of the bitterness). Yomogi mochi is a sweet rice pastry flavoured with mugwort and filled with sweet red bean paste. Another type of Japanese pastry featuring mugwort is Hanami Dango, a trio of white, pink and green balls of mochiko served on a sewer, which symbolize the cherry blossom in its green leaf, bud and flower state.

Spirits and Liquors:
Artemisia absthuinthium was used to spice mead in Medieval times. In 18th Centruy England, it was used to make beer much like hops (whose bitterness - or more accurately, the chemicals that are responsible for it - is effective in preventing spoilage of the barley during the fermentation process.

Artemisia is used to flavour various spirits and wines, chief among them being bitters, in which it takes the role of a battering agent; in the bitter liquor pelinkovac (from former Yugoslavia); and is a key ingredient in two important and equally famous alcoholic beverages, which both were used originally for medicinal purposes: absinthe and vermouth. Artemisia absinthium in combination with fennel and aniseed, is used to flavour the green-coloured Absinthe spirit, giving it a distinctive anise flavour. Other elements, such as melissa (lemon balm), angelica, peppermint, coriander, veronica or star anise may also be used. Absinthe is traditionally served diluted with water, which is poured over a sugar cube through an ornate spoon. Once diluted, it takes on a milky appearance (due to the high content of essential oils within the alcohol). Sazerac, New Orleans' famous whiskey cocktail, is delicately flavoured with absinthe, by swishing or spraying the glass with the spirit before serving. I wonder if we'd need to wait a 100 years for the draconian restrictions on oak moss to lift.

Turns out that the dangerous reputation regarding absinthe (hallucinations, violence and seizures) is mostly a myth - and that although thujone can be a neurotoxin in high quantities, none of the absinthe of the past nor present presents such a threat, and the negative effects of "absinthism" are in fact to blame on alcoholism: absinthe was traditionally a very high in alcohol content (68-72%); and unfortunately, not infrequently it as made with poor alcohol contains the toxic methanol, and at times even with a toxic green dye. 

Vermouth began as a German wormwood wine Wermut is German for wormwood, and the word got bastardized as it travelled form Germany to Italy and from there to the rest of Europe and eventually the UK. Aside from wormwood, vermouths may be flavoured with herbs such as marjoram and hyssop, spices such as cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander and ginger; as well as with citrus peel, chamomile, and with juniper and quinine.

Artemisia in Perfumery:

Artemisia herba-alba essential oil is green in colour, and I have not had the honour to smell it in person. Artemisia vulgaris essential oil is a clear yellow mobile liquid, and has an herbaceous, bitter, intense, offensive and aggressive even scent, reminiscent of cedar-leaf and sage. It is also lightly berry-like and musky with woody undertones. Hints of marigold and chamomile undertones as well. Waxy like candle and becomes more sweet and honeyed, floral after a while. Hints of peach stone. Artemisia's green, fresh, herbaceous qualities make it the perfect conspirator in Fougère and Chypre compositions, as well as foresty fragrances. Last but not least - tobacco and leather fragrances, to which it contributes an almost palpable bitterness that creates an illusion of chewing tobacco. It also finds its way into soap fragrances and is also a popular scent for Japanese bath salts and an addition to hot springs "spa". The key to using it is creativity and imagination: Do not use it as a main theme but in combination with other notes, where it will act as an accessory note to create a surprising effect.

I have tinctured fresh leaves of Artemisia arborescens and the result is a very clean, fresh and green aroma which I am now curious to work with both as a flavouring agent (in bitters) and in fragrance compositions.

Here is a very partial list of perfumes that contain artemisia/absinthe:
Bandit
Biche Dans l'Absinthe 

Vanilla is the New Silver


Vanilla is synonymous with the aroma of pastry baking as well as pleasing the common taste of the masses. It is the most popular ice cream flavour in the world, and is what makes Shalimar and a myriad of other Oriental-Ambery fragrances so beloved. But vanilla as a spice or flavouring has not always been associated with sweetness. The Aztecs steeped their sacred cacao beverages with vanilla and chilli, and the savoury is practiced in contemporary Mexican cuisine. Due to climate change and natural disasters in Madagascar, the country that is responsible for the majority of the world's production, we may not be able to enjoy vanilla ice cream as often as we are accustomed to. At least not with pure vanilla beans.

The term "Plain Vanilla" is the simplest, most basic form of things, lacking innovation or pizzazz in its design or characteristics. "Vanilla Software" is code that is so generic it can be potentially sold to any client, but at the same time be rather unsatisfactory because the customization hasn't been put in place yet. "Vanilla Sex" is a rather judgemental term for conventional sex, alluding to the persons preferring it being unadventurous, unimaginative, and generally boring. 

True vanilla extract, however, is anything but boring! 

Up until the 15th Centruy, vanilla was closely guarded by the Totonac people - first people of Mexico. In the mid 1400s, they were conquered by the Aztec and used vanilla fruits to pay them. The Aztecs adopted "Tlilxochitl"and incorporated it into their ceremonial cacao libation (along with masa harina, chilli and honey). In 1520, Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztecs and was greeted with this beverage. He took with him to Europe many of the botanical treasures he found, including cacao, vanilla beans, tomatoes and chilli peppers. It was not until about 300 years later though, that vanilla would produce any fruit - which happened in one of the French colonies in the Rénunion. But more on that later. 

The name vanilla originates from vainilla - a dimuniative for "vaina" (from the Latin word "vagina", meaning "sheath"). So "a little sheath" because of the shape of the vanilla fruit (or seed pods), which looked like a tiny sheath for placing a sword or a dagger. 

Botanical name(s): Vanilla planifolia

Synonyms: Vanilla fragrans, Common Vanilla, Mexican vanilla, Bourbon vanilla, Reunion vanilla, Madagascar Vanilla.

Other species of vanilla: Vanilla pompona (AKA West Indian Vanilla), which is grown in the West Indies, Central and South America. This variety is less known commercially. 

Vanilla tahitinesis (Tahitian Vanilla), which grows in the South Pacific (cultivated in French Polynesia), is possibly a hybrid between V. planifolia and V. odorata. It is speculated that it originated in Guatemala, and arrived in the Philipinnes by the Manilla galleon, and finally brought to Tahiti by the French admiral François Alphonse Hamelin. This vanilla species has a distinctively different aroma, more floral and less woody-animalic than the V. planifolia, and with a very sweet-pastry-powdery presence, reminiscent of heliotrope.

Most of the world's production (about 80%) of vanilla beans is in the island of Madagascar, off the southeast coast off Africa (the closest neighbouring country on the continent is Mozambique). In March 2017, the cyclone Enawo struck the island of Madagascar, damaging two of the largest vanilla-growing regions in the country. Because ripe and cured vanilla beans are such labour-intensive to produce, as you will shortly discover; and because new crops begin to bloom and produce fruit only when mature (which takes between 3-4 years), this cyclone has a global effect on the availability and price of vanilla. In 2018, vanilla prices have risen to 30-fold their price comparing to 2013 ($600 vs. $20 per kilo), which is more than the cost of silver! Prices have began to decline but are still prohibitively expensive, to the point that many ice cream producers are taking their vanilla-ice-creams off the menu or replacing it with artificially flavoured ones. As a result of this astronomical hike in price, crime has gone rampant in Madagascar, with the crops that remain stolen and vanilla farmers living in constant fear for their livelihood. Some measures have been taken, such as stamping each vanilla bean with the farm's serial code. But in reality, this hike has done more damage to the producers than any good (and of course the pastry chefs and natural perfumers aren't enjoying it either). Despite the grim predictions in 2017 that vanilla bean production (and prices) will be problematic for about seven years, and forecast now seems more optimistic. Additionally, more countries who can and have grown vanilla (some in Africa, such as Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameron, and Nigeria; and India and Indonesia in Asia; and even Mexico) - are taking advantage of this gap and finding new markets. This is hopefully solving a problem that is not to blame on this one cyclone only. In reality, Madagascar's monopoly on vanilla was threatened by other poor crops since 2014. And it has for many years been a goldmine for various opportunists who use vanilla as a money-laundering channel, for example: illegal Madagascan rosewood traders would dispose of their cash by purchasing vanilla beans, a commodity in much demand that can easily be sold to about a dozen of intermediaries who distribute it world-wide. 
However, this cyclone's stark results has forced the world to take a closer look at the corruption surrounding the vanilla trade (as well as other commodities, such as cacao and coffee beans), and take more responsibility over how its done. It is a tragically ridiculous situation, when crops get such high prices and the communities who farm them are still living in extreme poverty and are increasingly threatened by crime.
Vanilla is a climbing orchid native to Mexico and Central America, and is the only orchid whose extract is used for its fragrance in perfumery (other "orchid" fragrances are usually manmade compounds, either imaginary or "fantasy" floral formulas, or based on real-life by using headspace technology - which recreates the scent the flower emits from synthetic molecules). Vanilla grows like a vine and needs to climb on a structure to come to its full potential of flowers and fruit. It may appear to be a parasite, because it supports itself on tree trucks with tiny and very strong hooks - but in fact it does not rely on the tree for nourishment, which it derives honestly from the soil and sun.  
Vanilla flowers are greenish-yellow in colour, with a diameter of 5 cm (2 in). The bloom only for a day, providing a very short window for pollination in the morning hours, in order for them to bear fruit. In their natural habitat in Mexico, the flowers are pollinated by the Mellipona bee - a tiny insect with very long trunks, who transfer the pollen from one part of the flowers to another (the anther to the stigma). The insect provide only a 1% pollination rate among the flowers - the remaining 99% drop to the ground the next day. This scientific discovery was made in 1836 by the Belgian botanist Charles Morren. He also tried, to develop a pollination alternative that will make vanilla a commercially-viable crop, but to no avail. His technique was too cumbersome. 

In commercially grown vanilla, the flowers need to be hand-pollinated even in its native country - because one cannot count on minuscule bees to do all the pollination and let the rare flowers go to waste. The technique for hand-pollination was developed in 1841 by Edmond Albius, a slave boy in the Réunion. He was only 12 years old at a time, and found a simple and quick solution using a blade of grass and his thumb to do the job. He remained a slave until 1848, when the French laws were changed and banned slavery. His ingenuity and contribution to the cultivation of vanilla (and as a result to perfumery and flavouring, and the entire world of pastry) was recognized and even gave him clemency after being five years in prison (to which he was sentenced after being caught stealing jewellery in his new job as a kitchen servant). However, he did not receive enough recognition and died in poverty at the age of 51.

The fruit grows only in plants that reached maturity and are over 3 m long. The fruit looks similar to tiny bananas or green string beans - but are not beans at all. They would mature on the plant only after 8-9 months of growth, but are picked at 5 when still green, and undergo a curing process that was learned from the First Nations of Mexico. Although vanilla curing methods around the world vary, they all contain several steps, which essentially are:

Killing: Stopping the plant's growth and encouraging the beginning of enzymatic action. Various methods are used, including heating in water, freezing and scratching - each of these produces slightly different aroma profile as it puts different enzymes to work. 

Sweating: hydrolytic and oxidative process in which the fruit is kept tightly packed and insulated as to keep the temperatures at around 45-65 degrees celsius. In order to do so, the fruit may be dipped in hot water or exposed to the sun. By the end of the sweating process (which is really a type of fermentation), the beans will gain the characteristic brown colour, but will still be too moist (about 60-70% water).  This process takes between 7-10 days. 

Drying: In the drying process, the beans will lose moisture down to only 25-30% of their weight. This process helps preserve the vanilla beans' aroma, and prevent them from spoilage. This process is the most sensitive, in which much of the vanillin can get lost from uneven drying. To prevent this, extra care is taken and the beans are constantly monitored for changes needed in their environment - they are moved from sun to shade, and being exposed to the air in various ways to ensure their quality remains consistent. This process may take several weeks. 

Conditioning: After all this process, the beans need to be stored for additional 5-6 months in closed boxes, and this is where they develop their final fragrance and aroma. Good beans should have about 2.5% vanillin content. 

Grading: Once ready, the beans are graded, sorted, bundled and wrapped to preserve their qualities. Grading systems vary, and include attention to the beans length, thickness, appearance (colour, sheen,  pliability which shows moisture content, blemishes, etc.). The highest grades are kept whole. The beans with blemishes or "defects" are treated to remove those visible, or if they are too dry they are saved for preparations in which appearance is not as important - i.e.: vanilla extract, vanilla paste. In fact, the drier vanilla beans are far more suitable for tincturing (producing vanilla extract), as they don't have water content to weaken the alcohol's solvent powers. 

Vanillin Crystals
Constituents: 1.3-2.9% vanillin, hydroxybenzaldehyde, acetic acid, acetaldehyde, isobutyric acid, caprice acid, eugenol, furfural, hexanoic acid, 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde, methyl cinnamate plus over 150 more molecules in trace amounts. Tahitian vanilla (Vanilla tahitinesis) would have a different chemical structure, much lower in vanillin. 

Vanillin (4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde) is a perhaps the most important component which gives cured vanilla and its product the characteristic flavor and aroma. Vanillin was first isolated from vanilla pods by Gobley in 1858. By 1874, it had been obtained from glycosides of pine tree sap, temporarily causing a drop in prices of natural vanilla. Vanillin can be easily synthesized from several sources, but most food-grade vanillin (which must be > 99% pure) is made of guaiacol - usually created by the pyrolysis of lignin (a by-product of the paper industry). 

Physical appearance & characteristics: Thick, dark brown, viscous liquid with vanillin crystals often forming, particularly in cooler temperatures. Powdery granular white particles typically float inside the dark fluid, but as the temperatures drop, it will become increasingly difficult to pour and white “needles” of the vanillin crystals will form inside the “empty” part of the container. In this scenario, a bain-marie is recommended to return the vanilla absolute to its pourable and more workable state. 

Odour description: Sweet memories of licking vanilla ice cream, discovering vanilla extract at my grandmother’s kitchen, baking cheesecake and other grandmotherly associations, scraping vanilla beans. Vanilla has a balsamic, rich aroma with a woody hint, very strong (it behaves like 5 fold its actual presence) - a little goes a long way. 

Volatility rate: Base note and a fixative 

Note Vanilee (Vanilla Notes)

Roles in perfumery: Fits with everything, as long as it’s not overdone - in which case it will dominate! Remember, every time you're adding vanilla, imagine you're adding 5 times the actual amount. Vanilla absolute is a key component in amber bases, ambreine accord, Ambery Orientals, in flavouring tobacco and giving tobacco fragrances their characteristic deep-sweet nuance. In Fougère vanilla absolute proves very useful in smoothing out the rough edges of all the herbaceous notes, and sweetening the bitterness of the oakmoss and coumarin notes. 


Vanilla in Flavour: Vanilla is the world's most popular ice cream flavour, and is used in the confectionary world almost in the same way salt is used in the savoury one. 

Perfumery Uses/Blending Tips:
Vanilla goes with everything, but in particularly shines when paired with tonka beans, orris butter, leather notes, sandalwood, rose, frankincense, galbanum absolute, labdanum, styrax, bergamot, yang ylang, tuberose, tobacco, mandarin, sweet orange, blood orange, vetiver, oakmoss, patchouli and lavender (so no wonder it’s included in Fougère course). 

Vanilla may seem tame and agreeable, but in fact it fortifies itself overtime and can take over a blend. Keep in mind that whichever amount you put is equivalent to 5x vanilla. Which is a good thing - because vanilla is a very popular and costly material. If you find vanilla overbearing even in its tiniest amounts, consider using vanilla tincture instead, from the cured vanilla pods. Recipe for doing so appears in my book (formula 10.1.4). 





Examples: Shalimar (Guerlain), L (Lolita Lempicka), Immortelle l’Amour and Espionage (Ayala Moriel)

Formula 10.1.4 Vanilla Tincture 
36 g Vanilla Pods (about 16-18 pods)
100 mL Alcohol
Split the pods lengthwise and scrape the “seeds.” Finely chop the pods. Put in a jar and cover with alcohol. Shake frequently. Ready for filtering after a minimum of 1 month.
This is more concentrated than vanilla extract used in cooking and baking, but less concentrated than a 50% dilution of vanilla absolute, so it can give a nice, subtle woody-vanilla effect without being overpoweringly sweet.



Decoding Obscure Notes: Africa Stone

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Sorry to disappoint you, but Africa Stone will not get you high. It has nothing to do with ganja. Nor is Africa Stone a precious rock or a mineral (although it does have some geological significance). Rather, it is a more romantic and mysterious sounding name for a fossilized metabolic product derived from the droppings (in other words: pellet-shaped poop) of the African-in-origin animal called Rock hyrax. Other names for it are rock badger, rock rabbit, Cape hyrax, or dassie if you are in South Africa it. In Hebrew Shaffahn Sela, and in Arabic وبر صخري ("wabr sakhri"). It roams not only in Africa, but also the Middle East - and can be found wild in Israel and Jordan, where it is also notorious for spreading the nasty skin diseases leishhmeniasis, unfortunately. 
This unusual yet commonly spread mammal has an appearance reminiscent of a large guinea pig, yet is surprisingly related to the elephant and the Sirenians (herbivorous sea mammals, including the manatee and other sea "cows"): all belong to the Paenungulata clade.  The rock hyrax (Procavia capensis) is a mammal from the Afrotherian superorder and is the only genus in the order Hyracoidea (and the only member of the family Procaviidae, which kind of defeats the purpose of belonging to a family at all...). The rest of its relatives, creatures from the Paleogene period have become extinct long ago. Hyraxes are relatively contemporary, having emerged in the relatively recent Neogene period. 
There are several curious things about its anatomy, which point to this direction: first of all, it has two unusual incisors, which are common to the tusks in elephants and dugongs. Secondly, its nails are flat much like the elephant's. 

Rock Hyrax

Rock hyrax is a territorial animal that lives in large colonies in caves and rock crevices throughout Africa and the Middle East. They usually have one male with a large herds of females and youngsters. The male acts as a sentry to the group, and will call out to warn them and get them all to return quickly to their cave. The male is mostly the one that marks their territory with highly odoriferous droppings that get their scent from animal pheromones that both the male and female excrete. 
Hyraceum: the aged and fossilized droppings of the rock hyrax. Because the hyrax lives in the same areas for generations. Their droppings and urine compress and petrify, and become almost like a fossil overtime. Some of these middens can be even 50,000 years old, and can show layers of evidence from bygone times [1]. Similarly to the amber from Pinus succinifera, this fossil retains its scent. And this is why it is so useful for perfume making. In South African folk medicine, hyraceum is called Umchamo wenfen [2] and is used to treat snake and scorpion bites [3], as an antidote for poisons, for abdominal pain, to ease pregnancy, to treat diabetes and prostate problems, as well as epilepsy and convulsions. Some research shows that it has an affinity with GABA-benzodiazepine receptorwhich is how it supposedly helpful in stopping seizures, much like the drugs lorazepam and diazepam. 

Its use in perfumery is fairly new though, and becomes increasingly more popular as it can replace civet and castoreum without the need for hunting or animal torture. 
Constituents: Unknown.  

Physical appearance & characteristics: In its raw form, Africa Stone does resemble a rock more than an organic matter. Depending on its age and how petrified it is, hyraceum can be very hard and difficult to break down, or it can be more sticky and resin-like. The pure absolute is a dark-brown, opaque viscous liquid not unlike molasses. 

Volatility rate: Base note and a fixative

Odour description: Leathery and fecal at the same time. Gamey, animalic, nutty, floral, yeasty/mushroomy (like porcini/cèpes), phenolic, tanned hydes, fur, dark earth, sweat, gassoline. Putrid, like a carcass.   

Perfumery Uses: An animal material that is cruelty free and possesses many characteristics that are similar  to both civet and castoerum. Can be used in minute quantities to amplify floral compositions and provide fixative support to any genre. Use in high doses in Russian Leather type fragrances in place of castoreum. In moderate doses in all categories such as Chypre, Fougère, Oriental, etc. to give a perfume the animalic depth it requires. It does not serve exactly as a substitute to civet and castoreum, as it as it does not have the same transformative power unique to these animal materials, where the smaller amount completely transforms the composition even if its own aroma cannot be clearly detected. Perhaps the Gods of Perfume require the sacrifice of animal life or welfare to grant the perfumer with such an effect. 

Perfumes with Hyraceum: Hyraceum is a relatively new raw material in the fragrance context. A quick search down Basenotes directory of Africa Stone leads to a very short list of fragrances, and all of them contemporary by niche houses, including Fig by Aftelier, Foxy and Chinchilla by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Carmine and Kazimi by House of Matriarch, Gracing the Dawn by Roxana Illuminated Perfume and a few more. Curiously, there is one perfume by Penhaligon's from 1870, but I suspect this is a 2011 reformulation by Bertrand Duchafur that added this ingredient. Under Hyraceum you'll also find a few others, mostly by brands I don't recognize, and then Phenomene Verte II by Parfums Lalun (the 1st one was wonderful). By yours truly, you could first find Africa Stone in the now defunct Gaucho, which was launched the same year as InCarnation. More lately, Treazon, Narkiss and Inbar also contain this note.  

Aromatherapy uses: None. 

Blending Tips: Pre-dilute to 1-3% for subtle presence and to benefit from its fixative advantage without changing the personality of your composition too much. This is particularly improtant if you’re working with 10% dilutions with most of your building blocks. Use in as high as 15% dilutions in composition that require this note to be noticeable and dominant (i.e.: Leather, Tobacco, Orientals, etc.), or if you’re using pure essences (undiluted) when composing. Hyraceum goes well with costus, labdanum, vanilla, tobacco, tuberose, jasmine, castoreum, cade, narcissus, orris butter, agarwood, etc. 

Safety considerations: None known. Not for flavour use. 

Additional sources:

[1] Quaternary Science Reviews Volume 56, 21 November 2012, Pages 107-125
[2]Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2014; 11(5): 67–72. Published online 2014 Aug 23.
[3] South African Journal of Science S. Afr. j. sci. vol.103 n.11-12 Pretoria Nov./Dec. 2007



Decoding Obscure Notes: Civet

Masked Palm Civet - 02

“Civet: Animal secretion from the so-called civet  “cat” – an African animal that resembles a mongoose in appearance. The male and the female have special glands located between their genitalia and anus that produce civet. The civet was first discovered in coffee plantations, from which they would steal coffee berries. Curiously, civet coffee (beans recovered from civet faeces) is now sought after by coffee connoisseurs, and sold for a prime price. Less exciting to learn is the fact that most, if not all, civets are kept in captivity under horrible conditions. The reason is that the more angry and agitated these animals are, the more civet they produce. They are held in small cages and occasionally poked and prodded with sticks to “encourage” the secretion of civet. Therefore, civet has become a controversial raw material, as there are no known ethical or cruelty-free civet farms. Civet secretion is processed with solvent to produced an absolute – a thick paste with an enormously intense odour, dominated by indole and paired with other animal nuances that are warm, strong and musky. At low dilution, they create a very pleasing, almost floral sweetness that is sadly inimitable.”

- Excerpt From: Ayala Moriel. “Foundation of Natural Perfumery: A Practical Hands-on Guide for Creating Your Own Fragrances.” 

While preparing my article about The Painted House and Z'bad, I realized to my astonishment that after all these years of blogging, I have never dedicated an article to civet! Civet is perhaps the most iconic animalic raw material, without which many classics would simply not exist. Too many to count, really, but just from the top of my head - Tabu, Youth Dew, Joy, Miss Dior, Diorissimo, No. 5, Jicky, Bal a Versailles, Korous, Old Spice and so many more. While many perfume nerds know about indole as being the major component in the faecal hit that civet is known for, very few have actually ever smelled it in its raw form. Civet has a paste-like, golden appearance and texture not unlike a generous dollop of human earwax treasure. In its raw form, civet is overbearing and intrusive. Impolite to say the least. But there is more to it than indole.

Zoology and of Civet:
Researching this animal, I realize how little I know about the animal kingdom. And while researching and trying to understand the zoological classification of civets, I also found out not only that hyenas are more related to cats than to dogs, but also some fascinating facts about the spotted hyena's female genitalia, which is a proof that nature is a lot less decisive about male-female distinction. But I digress so let's turn back to civets.

First of all, although they share some physical similarities, mongoose are closer to cats than they are to civets, so my analogy is not all that off the mark. Both the mongoose and the cat belong to the Feliformia suborder. Civet (Civettictis civetta), however, belongs to the suborder Viverroidea and the family Viverridae, which are the primitive predecessors of the feliformia. It consists mostly of the genera: ViverraGenettaHerpestes, and Suricata. The "civets" in this family belong to three sub-genres within the viverranae sub-family: Genetta, Poiana, Viverra (which has many types of "civets" within it), viverricula (which consists only of the Indian civet), and lastly the Civettictis where our subject, the African Civet (which originate in Ethiopia) belongs and is the only member of, and also the main one of interest to perfumery (and to a lesser extent also the Indian civet).

These animals are mostly found in Africa and Southeast Asia. They like various habitats, including mountains, savanna, woodlands and especially thick tropical forests. Unfortunately, with the massive deforestation on our planet, their habitat is diminishing. Most of the animals belonging to this family have renewable scent glands on their skin. They have long tails and long snouts, particular teeth structure which I won't bore you with and other anatomical characteristics. Basically these are small carnivores (smallest being the wee African linsang, and the largest of them being binturong, which can go up to 25kg). The civet in question, however, is actually an omnivore, relying mostly on a plant-based diet consisting of fruit and somewhat on nectar. Which explains why it likes to eat coffee berries and produces the famous "kopi luwak" from the partly digested coffee "beans". But more on this later.

The African Civet's scent glands or "pouches" are located near the anus, and occur in both males and females. However, the males produce larger quantities of the funky civet secretion. It is unclear what is the purpose of these glands, but it is very likely a deterring mechanism, much like the skunk: the animals produce more of this secretion when they are under stress.

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Historical Uses:
The African Civet is native to Ethiopia, and therefore we need to look into this country's history and heritage to discover the first relationships mankind had with this animal. It is believed that civet paste was used in Ethiopian perfumes, cosmetics and perhaps also incense from time immemorial, and that Queen of Sheba brought this as a gift to king Solomon. Yemen being just across the Red Sea from Ethiopia would explain the emergence of the Zbad (زبد) perfume paste in this country - a solid perfume or unguent made mostly with civet, and with added resins, spices and perhaps even with other animal musks. The specimen I have is redolent of camphor, spearmint, myrrh and opoponax.

Even to this day, Ethiopian civet is collected in cups made of zebu horn (a type of an ox), which is also where they were traditionally stored. Each horn would be filled to the brim with the semi-solid civet paste, the production of four years of civet from one animal - between 35-40oz of the material. It was often also adulterated with other zebu products, such as clarified butter, other fats, beeswax, honey and even baby excrements (!). To test the civet for quality, civet traders would actually taste this paste, with the honey being a tell-all sign for adulteration. Yum.

Zeved (זֵבֶד) is mentioned in the the Torah (Old Testament) once, although in a different connotation - a blessing of thankfulness of Leah after giving birth to her son Zevulun. In this context, the word could mean a gift, but it might also have meant perfume, and some modern translation use the same word (which has very similar spelling equivalence to the Arabic Zbad) - it is used simply as "civet".
It is speculated that the third gift the magi brought to Christ upon his birth along with the frankincense and myrrh was not gold (Zahav in Hebrew), but in fact civet. Since the New Testament is originally in Greek I can't comment on the language there, because my knowledge of this language is less than minimal.

Preparation of Civet Extracts:
Crude civet paste is extracted with hydrocarbon (a solvent) to produce a concrete, which is further processed with alcohol to yield an absolute.

A low-tech Civet extract in the form of tincture can be fairly easily prepared from the crude civet excretion by alcohol maceration, using one of the following ratios of civet paste to 95% ethanol:
1:5 (labeled as 20% civet tincture) 
or -
1:10 (labeled as 10% civet tincture)
This mixture can be placed to macerate overtime, or gently heated, then chilled prior to filtration, in order to separate any fatty or waxy material from the alcohol.
What does Civet Smell Like:
Civet has a distinct animal, faecal odour which is full concentration is objectionable and repulsive, smelling like fear and danger. Just like the animal's state of mind when it secrets it. Upon dilution to 10% it is still very strong and repulsive, like pubic hair and the nether region after not being washed for more than a day. At 1% would, civet presents a honeyed, floral aroma, sweetly reminiscent of unwashed beard, sexy and with a still superb diffusive powers.

Chemical Makeup
Civet extracts (tincture or absolute) is especially known for being dominated by indole and skatole (AKA civettol, which is closely related to the former) but the truth is that these only appear in small amounts (about 1%). The more important molecules in civet is the musk cyclohexadecanone (AKA civettone or zibethone)[1], which gives civet its honeyed, musky-floral, lasting power. Civet that has too much faecal or uric qualities is likely adulterated with indole and skatole, and in any case is considered of inferior quality.  

Both civettone and civettol were successfully synthesized, and have largely replaced civet in the fragrance industry, their appeal not limited to their consistency and availability, but also to their lack of faecal facets. In this exactly lays their disadvantage though - because they do not represent the full spectrum of natural civet.

Daring
Civet in Perfume:
There is hardly any class of perfumery that can't use some civet, even if just for its fixative qualities. And indeed, one of its most versatile uses is to prefix alcohol. Civet is particularly valuable in floral compositions, giving them not only lasting power, but also a highly diffusive power, depth of character and enhanced aphrodisiac qualities. It is especially valuable in narcissus basis, but is also very useful (in minute quantities, of course) in lighter florals such as Lily of the Valley (Diorissimo being a prime example). However, civet in large and identifiable quantities is particularly in use in the oriental classification, rounding off to Spicy/Woody Orientals,  adding depth and warmth to Ambery Orientals and amber bases, honey bases, "black" musk compounds (as opposed to the "white musk" which is relying on ambrettolide and other vegetal musks), leather, Fougère, and more. Civet goes particularly well with rose, jasmine, agarwood, ylang ylang, orange blossom, honey absolute, vanilla, patchouli, tonka bean, other musks, and more.

Civet in Flavour:
Perhaps you'd be surprised that civet finds any use in flavour, especially after reading about its adulterants. But it is in use, especially in compounding berry flavours, and finds its use to many flavour categories, including alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, chewing gum, baked goods, frozen dairy, puddings/gelatin products, hard and soft candy (Fenaroli's Handbook of Flavor Ingredients, p. 333). No specifics were provided. 

The coffee aficionados have probably heard of the lucrative Kopi Luwak - coffee beans that were partly digested by civets, and therefore have not only gotten an additional extra special aroma, but also the process of passing through the creature's digestive tract have fermented them and created a supposedly superior taste. These can go for a very high price - I have seen a small tin of roughly quarter of a pound sold for $100 many years ago, and recently for a much reduced price of $45. Some places are reputed to serve a single cup for a $100, so this sounds like a very good deal. However, as curious as I was - I did not feel comfortable supporting this kind of product, not to mention actually ingesting it. So I can't comment from first hand about its hedonic value.

Civet and Ethics:
It's impossible to talk about civet without discussing ethics (or lack thereof) and animal welfare. African Civets are the ones commercially used and are captured from the wild and kept in small cages to keep them in a state of fright. The reason being, that the more pissed off they are, the more secretion they'd produce. As mentioned earlier, African Civets eat mostly a vegetarian diet. However, when fed meat, it was discovered that they produce way more secretion.

Here's an excerpt from Arctander's "Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin" to give you an idea of civet's living conditions, including its diet over four years - the amount of time a civet takes one civet to fill a zebu horn with a marketable amount of secretion:
"During this period, the animal will consume something like the raw meat from 50 (fifty) sheep, and the poor cat, frequently teased in its narrow cage, will have undergone 400 to 800 painful "scrapings" of its glands. The raw meat diet, the narrow cage and the teasing are all means of increasing the production of the civet secretion which is scraped off with regular intervals while the cast is caged." (p. 174). The ethical questionability in it is not just with the animal torture itself (and changing its diet to something it won't normally eat), but also the many sheep that get killed in the process, in very poor countries where they typically are used to feed entire families for years on end as dairy, and only occasionally slaughtered.

Civet boycotting began in the 1970s, but have drastically increased in the last couple of decades, thanks to the internet and more recently the advent of social media,  animal welfare and activism have taken the forefront on civet issues, and large (and small) perfume houses  felt a pressure to be politically correct and deny their use of civet in their perfume. This is only a half truth. While I'm certain most mass-produced perfumes no longer contain civet, not only because of their cost, but also because of the general decline in strong, dark musky animal notes in the general market; I'm just as certain that many perfume houses still use civet, which is necessary in many older formulations which are still commercially viable (classics such as No. 5, for instance, are still using high quality natural raw materials exclusively for the extract formulation, and I won't be at all surprised that natural civet is still in that jus). Just because companies announce they don't use something doesn't mean that they stopped using it. The proof is in the pudding. If this were true, there would be no more civet farms, would they not?

The fact and the matter is, civet is still raised commercially in Africa for scent-gland scraping which is mostly for use in perfume and finds some use in flavour also. Other farms (primarily in Asia) specialize in raising civets close to coffee plantations and feed them exclusively on coffee berries until they have blood-shot eyes from caffeine overdose. Both types of civet farming are alive and well as anyone who visits them could attest to. It's not just the Kopi Luwak aficionados that are responsible for the existence of civet farming - and subsequent cruelty.

Boycotting is a huge tool to raise awareness to an issue. But it is rarely a solution to a problem. On the contrary - it makes a bunch of privileged people (I'm talking about all of us in the perfume industry) feel better about ourselves, and rienforcers our sense of entitlement by flaunting righteousness all while doing absolutely nothing to solve the problem beyond sitting at the comfort of our armchair and pretend like we're solving the world's problems.

Just as the war on drugs has not erased drug use and its many dark implications on society (like crime, prostitution, overdose, contractions of STDs, etc.) or improved the life of those affected by drug abuse - so did the boycotting on civet hasn't improved one bit the conditions in which civets are raised not supports the civet farmers to abandon those practices and replace them with humane ones. While the West is boycotting civet loudly, civet farmers are getting paid less and less for their labour, and instead of selling directly to the fragrance houses before those washed their hands from the whole civet trade - they need to pass it through several hands to the larger grey markets in Asia, and finally it ends up with the same fragrance houses in France and the USA.

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Solution to the Problem? 
The correct way to remedy this as an industry is to claim responsibility and directly purchase from civet farmers, while at the same time improving the civets conditions, and supporting those farmers in transitioning to
Throughout the years of my work, I haven't used civet for commercial purposes, because I did not feel comfortable with this situation. Now that I have better understanding of the issues surrounding civets, and also live closer to where they are grown - I feel that I would like to be more involved in making civet conditions humane, and as a result also having an ethical civet product on the market. This is a huge undertaking - way bigger than one perfumer can do on her own, but if many of us small indie perfumers will show support for this trade and get truly involved, if we continue this discussion and start following an action plan, I think we may be able to use civet ethically in our lifetime. 
I highly encourage you to read all of Dan Riegler's articles on the topic. Dan visits in Ethiopia frequently and has contact with civet farmers and even an action plan for how to make this happen. Let's support him and make civet trading ethical! This will benefit everybody - the civets, the farmers who raise them, the classic perfumes that had civet in their formulation, and also new natural perfumes that could be created using them, guilt free.

[1] Please note Wikipedia entry for civet in perfumery lists three other molecules,  cyclopentadecanonecyclohexadecanonecycloheptadecanone, and 6-cis-cycloheptadecenone, which upon further research are either compounds of the muskrat odour, or simply misspelled.
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