Wild Hyacinth & Veronica

Wild Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis)

Clusters of wild hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) greeted us when arriving at the foothill of Mt. Meron. And they kept accompanying us as we climbed up towards to peak (Elevation over 1,200m). This has easily became a favourite hiking trail, which is a satisfyingly challenging two hour round trip (not too long and not too short), and always full of flora and fauna delights. It's a unique mountain because it has many rare plants that don't grow anywhere else in Israel, for example wild peonies. Other plants maybe grow elsewhere but still attract floral pilgrimages that I compare to the Japanese tradition of flower viewing (I already told you about the Sternbergia).
Wild Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis)
This time I came especially for the oriental hyacinth, the forefather of the cultivated grape hyacinths. I already wrote a little bit about wild hyacinths on this blog, but this is the first time I'm seeing them and smelling them in person. And I was not prepared for their smell at all. Cultivated hyacinths have a sharp green, heady, sweet perfume. Similar scent was observed at the bottom of the mountain - with the hyacinths having the typical green-sharp fragrance, a little sweet and white-wine-like, with forest-floor nuances and more than a sulphuric hint of green onion or chives. On the other hand, the hyacinths on the top of the mountain trail had a surprisingly tropical aroma, bringing to mind lilies and even suntan lotion (!).

Wild Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis)
Several molecules were found responsible for hyacinth's character: 3,7 dimethyl-1,3(E),5(E)-octatriene-7-ol (AKA beta ocimene, which has a tropical, green, woody, vegetal scent) and (E)-cinnamic alcohol (which gives it the spicy, floral-green, powdery, balsamic and slightly fermented character), and ethyl 2-methoxybenzoate (AKA benzoic acid or ethyl ortho-anisate, which gives it the fruity-floral aroma, also present in grapes). It must be a different ratios of these molecules that created the difference in the aroma profiles in hyacinths in different location.

Veronica syriaca
Just a few steps from the first cluster of hyacinths on the trail, a meadow of Syrian Veronicas (Veronica syriaca) ignites the imagination, visually looking like a dream perfume pairing. They look a little like violets, with a striking line that separates their blue-purple top from the bottom white colouring. I didn't notice any special smell about them, because I was too preoccupied with their looks and taking pictures of them. They are so delicate and yet outstanding. It's interesting how on the foothill of this mountain, two plants of such different lore grow next to each other: Veronica is named after St. Veronica, who tended to Jesus on the cross giving him a handkerchief to wipe his brow; and Hyacinthus - a pretty Greek lad whose preference of the Sun God Apolo as a lover over the West Wind God  Zephyrus brought upon his untimely death. To avoid sending his body to Hades, the Underwold God, Apolo turned his blood into this lovely and fragrant blue flower.

Cubist Olive Tree
Cubist looking ancient olive tree at the beginning of the trail.

Bear's Plum (Prunus ursina)

And yet a few steps from there - a wild plum, called Bear's Plum (Prunus ursina), which smells very much like ume (Japanese sour plum), and will ripen sometime during the summer. There was a surprising number of wild plum trees dotting the mountain, which is simply an endless source of inspiration.

Wild Anemonies & Hyacinths Trail
A gorgeous trail of wild red anemones and blue hyacinths higher up the mountain. 


Guavas from my mom's tree

Autumn in Israel has a completely different feel to it, having very little to do with fallen leaves or spooky celebrations, and more to do with the sunlight mellowing and the days shortening. Being on the merging point of three continent, this is a season of migrating birds (southbound from Europe, mostly), striking white flowers that rise fro the dead hay of summer, and carob blossoms with their disturbingly sexual smell.

There's also an overwhelming abundance of fruit that are coming out now, literally falling to the ground daily. Guavas are one of the most symbolic aromas that dominate this season. A single fruit will suffice to impregnate the air of an entire home, and families are often divided based on their attitude to this fragrant fruit with grainy flesh and creamy seed-filled core.

Homemade #guava #jam

My mom's trees are bursting with fruit, and even though we try to eat as many as we can, we're running out of ideas for what to do with them. Either way, they make a great environmental scent (at least for those who like the fragrance) so no complaints for having a basketful in each home in my family's little "neighbourhood". We already made a parfait with them (it was supposed to be gelato but I put too much gelatine so it congealed well before getting a chance to be frozen). I think we will need to make something else with them to preserve their goodness - maybe a jam or confiture if I can find a good recipe. Guavas also make excellent candy - such as the popular Mexican "Rollo de Guayaba" - a rolled fruit leather of sorts, and guava pate, very similar to quince, but often packed in flat wide cans. Guavas are also used in cooked and fresh, Cuban-style salsa (the pink guavas, which are more watery and less fragrant, go particularly well with tomatoes and onion). Paired with soft cheese, guavas make a sweet filling for empanadas.

Fresh guava & papaya salsa for our breakfast quesedillas and beyond.

Guavas belong to the Myrtle family, which may sound surprising, but when you bite into a firm fruit, or one that is not all mushy and ripe yet, actually makes sense. There is a fragrant green herbal note to guava. And that is the stage I enjoy eating it the most - when the part that is close to the stem still resists the bite a little bit, and has that slightly acrid taste while the rest of the fruit yields to the teeth and melts in your mouth. When the fruit is completely ripe, it has less pleasant odour in my opinion, suggestive of stinky feet.

There is a chemical explanation to this complexity, of course: "in immature fruits and those in their intermediate stage of maturation, were predominantly the aldehydes such as (E)-2-hexenal and (Z)-3-hexenal. In mature fruits, esters like Z-3-hexenyl acetate and E-3-hexenyl acetate and sesquiterpenes caryophyllene, α-humulene and β-bisabollene are present."

To further explain: (E)-2-hexenal is an important component of strawberry's fragrance, and (E)-3-hexenal is a green-smelling aldehyde, reminiscent of fresh cut grass and tomato leaves. So that partially explains why the unripe fruit is so interestingly fragrant and why strawberries and guavas go so well together. The fruit esters that develop when the fruit ripens - Z-3-hexenyl acetate also appear in berries such as blueberries and strawberries, while E-3-hexenyl acetate is described as the green odour of unripe bananas and pears. α-humulene is an isomer of caryphyellene, and is also responsible for the characteristic smell of cannabis - which might explain the offensive odour of the ripe fruit. β-bisabollene has a sweet taste and a balsamic odour, and also acts as pheromone in fruit flies (which is why they probably like ripe guavas so much).

Guava's objectionable aroma prevents them from becoming popular as a perfume note. And when they do make an appearance, it seems to be in commercial-smelling fruity florals and tropical-themed fragrances that I don't usually even bother sniffing. If you can enlighten me on a good scent with guava note I'd be grateful.

Florientals & White Florals

White Camelia
I spent the last two weeks teaching two courses back-to-back: Oriental Week and Floriental Week. So naturally I'm a bit obsessed with white florals right now... This fragrance category is arguably the most popular of all florals, even more than roses. So now seems like an aptly timing to discuss them and shed some light on this concept.

As with most perfumery terms, the name is borrowed from another realm or sense - in this case vision. Most of what we call "white florals" originate indeed in flowers whose colour is white, such as jasmine, gardenia and orange blossom. However, it is not their actual colour that determines whether or not they belong to this category; but rather their chemical makeup and character. Some white flowers don't belong to it, such as lily of the valley, which is actually "green"; while others don't have a scent at all, as the camellia pictured above (taken at Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver's Chinatown). Other flowers which belong to this category but are not necessarily white are ylang ylang and jonquille (the first is a creamy yellow-green, and the latter is as bright yellow as its relative the daffodil). Lilies are another great example – even though some lilies are pink or orange (like the tiger-lily), their scent is so heavy and narcotic they would be considered white florals as well.

White florals are characterized by a complex chemical makeup that is experienced as heady, narcotic, heavy and animalic all at once, at times also creamy. On the natural perfumer's palette this includes natural absolutes or enfleurage extractions of jasmine, tuberose, ylang ylang, gardenia, tiare, orange flower, narcissus, jonquile, etc. While the animals component of these flowers can vary from leathery to fecal, they all seem to possess a sweet, fruity, heavy, grape-like quality due to the presence of methyl anthranilate in some amount or another, and they all have benzyl acetate in common, which is an overall light, white floral, pleasant but rather ethereal molecule, and according to Jean-Claude Ellena are reminiscent of bananas. I think it also smells a little like acetone.

In his book "Perfume - The Alchemy of Scent", nose Jean-Claude Ellena defines the characterisic of "white flowers" as relying on the combination of methyl anthranilate and indole, and includes honeysuckle in this category (which is not altogether inappropriate, but to me honeysuckle smells more soapy, fresh and aldehydic). He classifies Ylang Ylang under a "Exotic of Spiced Flowers", alongside lilies and carnation - notes that are characterized by the combination of benzyl salicylate and eugenol. I don't completely disagree with him, but don't agree either.

As a visual representation of the various nuances among the white florals, I like to arrange them in my mind as a circle, each sharing a key quality with the two essences on each side. This is what I like to see in my head:

Narcissus - the greenest of all white florals, and with unusually mushroomy quality. It is floral and even a bit spicy. Very dark and complex and difficult to find and easy to get lost in a composition if not well-proportioned. The animalic aspect here comes from the purring leathery molecule paracresol. There is also an underlying note of coffee and hay which give it a surprising richness and allure. The main constitutes of narcissus: benzyl acetate, methyl benzoate, p-cresol, phenethyl alcohol and indole.

Jonquille - Very similar to narcissus, but a tad more honeyed and sweet. Richly indolic, powdery, animalic and sweet, somewhat green as well.

Tuberose - The creamiest of all white floral, also with green and fungal (mushroomy) aspects, and therefore I like to place it near the narcissus notes (narcissus absolute and jonquille, which by the way, are also tuberose's botanical relatives). The animalic aspect here is paracresol - an acrid, dry, with an almost leathery quality. Tuberose also has distinctive medicinal components, such as methyl salicilate (reminiscent of wintergreen) and camphoreous, eucalyptus-like notes. Alongside the methyl anthranilate grapeyness, it's no surprise many associate it with cough syrup.

Ylang Ylang - Creamy as well, and also shares the paracresol as its animalic aspect with tuberose, as well as the medicinal nuances, but is also more fruity, with banana esters being the most prominent. Ylang ylang also has some spiciness to it, from eugenol. Ylang ylang is also very similar to lilies, which I would place in close proximity to the tuberose and gardenia as well.

Gardenia - very similar to jasmine sambac, but less orange-blossom-like and more creamy and milky fruity qualities.  This is of course in relation to gardenia absolute.

Jasmine Grandiflorum - Jasmine shares the fruitiness and jam-like qualities with ylang ylang - only instead of bananas I'm smelling peach and apricot. There is some of the leatheriness of paracresol but it's far more subdued in comparison to the dominant fecal notes of indole and skatole.

Jasmine Sambac - Shares many aspects with jasmine, but with a far more dominant methyl anthranilate quality to it. The indole and skatole are very muted in here. Jasmine sambac is intensely fruity, juicy and exotic, reminiscent of gardenia but far greener.

Orange Blossom Absolute - Methyl anthranilate can really jump up here, but so are other more typical citrusy-floral elements such as linalyl acetate (present in bergamot and petitgrain, among others)

Orange Flower Water Absolute - This links nicely between the orange blossom and back to the narcissus absolute with started with - because it has more green and earthy qualities.

P.s. I've been asked several times since posting this, about which of my perfumes are white florals. So here's a short list of all: GiGi, Moon Breath, Narkiss, Schizm (a Chypre Fantasy), Tamya, Treazon, White Potion, Yasmin, Zohar

What Is Natural?!

There is an ongoing and lively (at times even heated) debate in the fragrance industry as well as among consumers about what is considered “natural” and what is considered “synthetic”. The terminology that is used by scientists, manufacturers and within the perfumery and flavouring trade is significantly different than the consumers' perception of terms such as "organic", "synthetic", "natural"... Throw in a term such as "organic synthesis" and the average person would get completely confused - most consumers think of "organic" as something that was grown without pesticides, non-GMO, etc. Organic chemistry, on the other hand, is a sub-discipline of chemistry that studies carbon-based and hydrocarbon based compounds. Many of which are formed in a process called synthesis - which when utilized by people will produce what we'd call "synthetics". But synthesizing is a process that occurs in nature - it is part of the metabolism of both plants and animals, and this is how all the useful medicinal compounds and essential oils are produced in plants.

Despite my clear and stated preference for using naturals in the products I create and sell (as well as products I purchase from other companies to use personally), I highly encourage you, my dear SmellyBlog readers (as I encourage all my customers and especially my perfumery students) to examine the true meaning of the terms natural and synthetic. Rather than portray a black and white picture, where materials can clearly be classified as either “natural” or “synthetic”, I would like to suggest an approach that helps to understand how materials are obtained, extracted and processed, and place them on a continuum that illustrates their relationship to the original raw materials based on two categories:
1) How much human intervention was required to obtain the material/building block?
2) What is the olfactory and chemical relationship between the raw, crude material and the end result?
- Based on these two factors alone, one can better understand and appreciate the qualities of different materials, This way, manufacturers and consumers are better able to make informed and educated decisions about the products they produce or procure.

The rawest state of an aromatic material is the crude state – such as the entire plant, or part of the plant – as in the case of balsams. The most processed is aromachemicals or other chemicals, including alcohol. Even organic grape or grain alcohols are, in fact, synthetic since they are achieved by the process of synthesis. Between those two extremes are varying degrees of human intervention to obtain aromatic building blocks, such as steam distillation, enfleurage, tinctures, macerations, solvent extractions, CO2 extractions (aka molecular distillation) isolates, etc. The table below is extracted from my Foundation of Natural Perfumery Course Handbook (2009 - 2nd Edition). It explains this concept with examples of actual raw materials: how they were obtained, their relationship to the source, etc. As you can see, it's not easy to come up with an exact "spot" for some of the materials in this continuum. Tinctures, for example, are raw plant matter that is immersed in alcohol, which is a material that is obtained by the process of synthesis (albeit from completely natural raw materials such as corn, grapes, etc.).

Not all aromachemicals were created equal either. Some are naturally ocurring (i.e.: eugenol, which is present in cloves, menthol in peppermint, geraniol in rose and in geranium, and ambroxan in ambergris and so on). These are "nature identical" molecules that were synthesized from a completely unrelated raw material such as petroleum. Other synthetic molecules are completely man-made and do not occur in nature - they were invented by chemists in the lab either when they were trying to create interesting molecules on purpose, or stumbled upon them by pure chance. Calone, for example, was discovered by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer in 1966. It does not exist in nature, although it is reminiscent of some pheromones created by brown algae, and smells somewhat like watermelon. Galaxolide, a synthetic musk used to death in most of laundry detergents and drier sheets, does not occur in nature (and neither does it break down - it's one of those polycyclic musks that is not biodegradable, which is precisely what makes it so attractive for scenting detergents - the scent endures many washes; unfortunately, the downside of this is that it also stays in the environment's water cycles, not to mention on our skin and in our own bodies for generations to come - the effects of which are still largely unknown).

Some synthetics are produced from waste that would be otherwise just thrown into landfills (such as lignin, a by-product of the paper industry, that is particularly useful for manufacturing vanilla). While some pure, beautiful naturals caused the destruction of entire forests (East Indian sandalwood, for instance). Lignin comes from trees - so would you say that synthetic vanilla is natural - or synthetic? And how about petroleum - isn't fossil fuel part of nature too? There are so many factors - environmental, political, ethical and health issues - that should affect the choice of certain materials over others.

One last interesting and important point for this debate - especially now that an increasing number of natural perfumers are choosing to use natural isolates in their perfumes - the question of what's natural and what's not is becoming more complex. It's easy to see the naturlaness and the relationship between the end result (the isolate) and its original plant when we're talking about ambrettolide isolated from ambrette seeds, galbanol from galbanum (some companies will actually label their isolates with the Latin name of the plant from which the molecule was isolated - which to me indicates that you can really know that it was not synthesized in the process). Isolates in these cases are really just a more refined forms of distillations or extractions - where the chosen components are removed from the plant's oil.

Other so-called isolates or "natural molecules" are manufactured in a different manner altogether. Ionone, for example, is a naturally occurring molecule in violets, osmanthus and other precious florals. It is not financially feasible to extract ionone as an isolate directly from violets. As far as I know, most certified-natural ionone molecules (either alpha or beta) are, in fact, synthesized from natural citral - a compound that is present in abundance in far more affordable natural raw materials such as lemongrass, citronella or litsea cubeba oils. If it's synthesized, would you say then, that it's natural, or synthetic? Or perhaps, it's a natural synthetic?!

Another confusing gray area is biosynthesis when it's used to create certain aromachemicals - at times the fact that natural enzymes were used for synthesis to create a certain molecule allows for labeling them as naturals, and the raw material from which this "natural" was synthesized remains unknown.

I'm going to leave you with these thoughts, and let you decide for yourselves what you want to call natural, if it is at all of any importance to you. From my point of view, both as a manufacturer and a consumer, transparency is the most important aspect as far as ethics go and affects fairness in advertisement and labeling. At the end of the day, everyone decides what they want to put on their skin and flush down their drains. And hopefully with the right information, we'll make smart enough choices to leave a clean, healthy and happy planet behind us for the next generations of humans, plants and animals.

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