Humulus Lupulus (Hops)

Hops (Humulus lupulus) is a climbing perennial herb, with separate female and male plants. It is the female flowers that are valued for their aroma and flavour in the production of beer. Glandular hairs in the strobile-shaped female flowers store lupulin, a molecule that accounts for hops’ distinctive fresh-fruity aroma and bitter flavour. It also contains humulone, isohumulone and humulene which are bitter-tasting compounds. It also contains the natural phenols xanthohumol, isoxanthohumol and the most estrogenic phytoestrogen known, 8-prenylnaringenin. Hops’ natural oils help the yeast grow by eliminating other microbs and cultures and thus prevent spoilage.

It is native to Europe and North America, and is mostly cultivated in Germany, Yugoslavia, and in California and Washington states. Hops oil is produced in the UK, Germany and France. An Absolute and CO2 extraction is also possible, the latter becoming increasingly popular as it brings a more complete profile of the fresh plant.

In herbal medicine, hops is valued for its relaxing effects, and was used by herbalists to treat insomnia, nervous tension, neuralgia and sexual neurosis. It helps women’s oestrogens, and was used for heavy periods. Hops-stuffed pillows were used to induce sleep as it is a mild sedative, similar to valerian's but milder. The aromatics in the pillow get released by resting the head upon it and crushing the strobiles. Chinese medicine used hops for pumonary tuberculosis and cystitis. Hops is an aphrodisiac, antimicrobial, antiseptic, ansitpasmodic, astringent, bactericidal, carminative, diuretic, emollient, has oestrogenic properties, hypnotic, nervine, sedative, soporific. While hops are used in aromatherapy for dermatitis, rashes and rough skin - it’s important to note that in some individuals, skin rashes occur on their hands after picking the strobiles. Other uses are indigestion, menstrual cramps, reduces sexual overactivity and sexually related anxiety, headaches, insomnia, stress-related symptoms. (according to Julia Lawless, The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, p. 108).

In Germany, they also use a special technique where they distill the hops with sodium chloride in the distillation water, to better separate the oil from the water; and than run a benzene (or other solvent) extraction of the distillation water to bring out the water-soluble aroma components. The “Complete” hops essence resulting from this is more true to the fresh plant and brings a better flavour and aroma - but only for a short time, as it does not keep nearly as well. Considering that fact that hops oil is extremely sensitive to light and oxigen, and spoils pretty fast anyway - this probably means the German are using it right away for beer production.

Hops oil is a greensh-yellow to reddish-brown mobile liquid (when fresh and hasn't resinified). The principal constituents in hops oil are: dipentene, myrcene, linalool, humulene, free formic acid, heptylic acid, valeric acid, esterified formic acid, acetic acid, decyclic acid, nonylic acid, octylic acid, oenanthylic acid, butyric acid and probably iso-nonylic acids (W.A. Poucher, Perfumes, Cosmetics And Soaps Vol. I, 1959, p. 209).

Fresh hops oil (which is something I probably never smelled, because even when mine was fresh, it smelled more than a tad “funky”) should be “rich, spicy-aromatic, sweet and heavy, but overall pleasant” (Arctander, Perfume and Flavors Materials of Natural Origin, p. 298). Upon oxidation, it develops valeric, isovaleric and caprylic acids, which changes the aroma to a rather unpleasant valerian-like funkym stinky-sock/locker odour. In other words: not boring, but not really pleasant either. A tell-tale sign that your hops has oxidized is if it’s no longer mobile: oxidation tends to resinify this oil.

Using hops in beer brewing did not become popular until the Middle Ages. Until then, most “beers” were in fact ales (aka un-hopped brews, cloyingly sweet and malty), and in Britain they used a combination of herbs called “gruit” which included sweet gale, sage, yarrow, pine, wormwood and broom.

While most of the production of hops goes directly into the thriving beer industry, it does find some use in some spice blends and sauces (I’m still looking for recipes for you!), flavouring tobacco, and for flavouring liquors (usually in combination with oils of angelica root, cascarilla and the like - in short: musky, bitter, herbaceous oils). What little hops makes it to the perfume industry like ends up in colognes (where it will add an unusual fruity note to complement the citrus and herbs), fougeres, and perhaps some oriental bases, where its spiciness will shine if treated well.

New Discoveries

New Discoveries by Ayala Moriel
New Discoveries, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
Monday was spent on the road mostly, doing a round trip to Seattle to reconnect with the West Coast indie perfume community, and smell some new raw materials. The fresh Szechuan pepper essence pictured here made the trip worth my while, but there were some other fascinating raw materials worth writing about.

Elemodor: fraction of elemi resin, which possesses no resemblance to its origin, with only the slightest hint of resinous woody. The best way to describe it is as orange zest and juice on speed.

Elemi (Canarium luzonicum): Sharp, crisp, like lemon and black pepper combined, and also with hints of both cilantro leaf and pink peppercorns.

Tobacco absolute: Time and time again, I'm surprised at how muted tobacco is. It can easily disappear in a blend, and it sometimes seems as if the more you add, the less you'd smell of it. A challenging raw material to work with, but powerful and very elegant when used properly. Although it does not have a very strong odour intensity or diffusive power, it is a distinctive note, reminiscent of freshly cured tobacco leaves (read: not stale!), fermented hay in a meadow, and with an undercurrent of animalic energy. A truly good tobacco bring a sense of reverence and reminds me of the original use of this as a sacred, medicinal plant.
Please note that this absolute is nicotine free, unfortunately, so don't try this as a substitute for your nicotine patch!

Cypriol/Cyperus/Nagramotha (Cyperus scariosus): from the vetiver family, this root oil possesses as urpentie, sharp top note, woodsy-dry base, and a very clean, elegant dryout reminiscent of the hint of tart freshness of Haitian vetiver.

Bois des Lands or Pinewood is a co-extraction of French pine resinoid with a Virginian cedarwood oil. Smells of wood, mushroom-y forest floor, moss and a tiny smoky, with a cheese-like fermented undertones. Dries out to a woody-balsamic finish.

Cedarwood fraction: From Texas cedarwood. Sharp cedar note, a little sweaty-herbaceous reminiscent of oregano.

Olibanum Wood: co-distillation of olibanum (frankincense resin) with Virginia cedarwood, which creates an interesting new note that is more stable and woody, more reminiscent of dusty frankincense tears rather than the oil or the smoke.

Vanilla CO2 with 20% vanillin:  This is just about as sweet as one can get, in a very elegant way.

Ambrette Oil (Abelmoschus moschatos): High content of ambrettolide, resulting in a typical "white must" scent without the skin-like, buttery, nutty and wine-like quality of most ambrette seed essences. 

Szechuan Peppercorn, Fresh: Green, floral, surprisingly citrusy (reminiscent of ruby red grapefruit, bergamot  and yuzu), tomato leaf and yerbamate. Very distinct, fresh and tenacious.

Poplar Buds Absolute: Honeyed, boozy, hops-like, hint of cloves, dominant propolis note, hint of nutritional yeast odour.

Mimosa Olessence: Gentler extraction method, resulting in a more true to the flower profile. Reminiscent of almonds, marzipan, hints of fennel, floral, woody and clean.

Elderflower Absolute: That nutritional yeast note again, with only the tiniest hint of what the fresh flowers are all about - cassis-like and floral. More like hay than a flower overall. Similar to linden blossom absolute, which also presents a similar problem.

KF1150: Isolate that smells grassy green and sharp - like a combination of gasoline and freshly cut grass. Your dad is going to love this!

Black Tea Absolute: Smells like a wonderful container full of fresh Assam tea, maybe hints of Darjeeling too.

Eucalyptus Forte: Combination of of solvent extraction and molecular distillation. Green, balsamic, eucalyptus pods, hints of animalic/indolic quality, surprisingly. Very tenacious, resinous-woody-balsamic dryout.

Just a little glimpse into where a perfumer's palette can expand.
And that's all, folks!


Fennel  by Marcia Milner-Brage
Fennel , a photo by Marcia Milner-Brage on Flickr.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) grows wild in the Mediteranean region. The wild fennel is called "bitter fennel" and cultivated fennel, also known as "sweet fennel" originated in the island of Malta, and discovered by crusaders who brought it to Europe about 1000 years ago. Growing up in the Galilee in Israel, we would find wild fennel in the winter and chew on them for their sweet aroma, or bring them home to our mother who added the feathery leaves to lentil stews and soups, or fresh into the salad just like you would with dill or parsley. Fennel seeds are common as breath-fresheners in India. The seeds also find their way into countless curries and garam masala recipes, as well as chai blends, where their sweetness balances the astringency of Indian black tea.

Fennel culinary uses far outnumber it's applications in perfumery. Its sweet, warm, fresh licorice-like aroma finds many uses in flavouring preparations from liquros and aperitifs, to syrups, cough drops and lozenges, as well as to season pickles and marinade fish and seafood. The last use, as well as its medicinal applications, has a scientific reasons behind it: the main chemical compound in fennel seed, anethole, is a powerful masking agent! You can find fennel seeds in Moroccan savoury pretzels and semoline cookies and desserts alike - not to mention Italian biscotti and how well it goes with orange zest. Fennel is more versatile that might seem at first to the untrained cook.

The fresh bulbs have many wonderful recipes in the Mediterranean region and you will find it in the Italian and Moroccan cuisines, where it's praised and prepared with reverence and consumed with much delight. The crisp bulbs are especially favoured, used fresh in salads, or roasted, grilled or caramelized for appetizers and antipasti.

Green Fresh Fennel Seeds

In contrast to this versatility - fennel rarely takes the centre stage in perfumery. Synthetic anethole is widely used to mask unpleasant odours in various industrial products, and that's about where its role ends. Synthetic anethole is preferred, because it is much cheaper to produce than to distill it from seeds of anise, fennel or star anise fruit. However, synthetic anethole also contains a toxic chemical called cis-anethole (which is not present in the natural oils of the above plants). You'd be hard-pressed to find any perfume of significance containing fennel as a note commercially. Fennel is a top note, so no matter how much someone might like it, it won't take centre stage for too long, even if it was allowed to. And then there is the other question - is there really any difference between fennel and other licorice-smelling notes?

Fennel by kevin dooley
Fennel, a photo by kevin dooley on Flickr.
The answer is, there is - though quite subtle. While aniseed has a very sweet-warm personality, and star anise an even cleaner, almost woody version of licorice - fennel has a bit of a fizzy green feel to it. You'd have to look at it with a magnifying glass (olfactorily speaking, of course) to find this out - but eventually you will be able to discriminate them in a blind test. In fact, it was one of the times I noticed that perhaps my nose is can differentiate such fine differences: I was in an aromatherapy store with a friend, and he spontaneously decided to blind-test me. I've ID'd it as fennel right away.

And why all this fennel talk, you might be wondering? It is seasonal - the bulbs are at the farmers' market, to my delight; and a surprise of green fennel seeds in Sunset Beach (which I used in a salad recipe with Asian pears). But my perfumery point of view on this actually comes from a surprising angle - my experiments with osmanthus absolute, furthering my acquaintance with this rare absolute brought me fennel seed again. I remembered fondly the Chartreuse Eau de Vie tisane and just had to try blending osmanthus with chamomile and fennel. Incidentally, I've also come across since with the liquor that inspired it (pricey, but worth it). It's so complex and delicious, reminiscent of honeyed herbal tea more than an alcoholic beverage. I'm not much of a drinker so it might take me a while to come up with a cocktail including that; but I will sure share it with you once I nail down something outsanding. For now I was just diluting it with San Pellegrino with much delight.

And just like the untrained cook - the beginner perfumer will only think of fennel as a whimsical, edible note to work alongside other licorice like notes (aniseed, star anise, tarragon) and other candy-like notes (sweet orange, vanilla, cacao) to produce a licorice candy effect. But it would take more imagination and adventurous experimentation to unearth fennel's beautiful life alongside Moroccan roses, apricot-like magnolias, fruity-apply chamomile, and spectacular, precious osmanthus. And I've only just scratched the surface of the surprising effects such combinations can create.

Wicked Tuberose

Tuberose have been played quite mellowly so far in my perfumes... In White Potion it is a soft whisper of creaminess with sandalwood and gourmand, bittersweet tonka and coconut. In other scents it's more of a supporting note (Zohar, Razala, Hanami...). I tend to accentuate its creaminess rather than the medicinal and rubbery aspects.

Tuberose is an intriguing material that can be played in many different ways. More often than never I find it overpowering in commercial perfumes, to the point of being unbearable... i.e.: paired with screeching green high notes (i.e.: Cabotine de Gras), and worst of all, smelling sickening, artificial and overpowering (i.e.: Poison, Carolina Herrera). Which is unfortunate - because natural tuberose is nothing like it. It's potent, strong and the fresh cut flower can take up a whole room after nightfall... Of course, there are many examples of bold tuberoses to look up to: Fracas, with its full-bodied, albeit high pitched at first, floral, fruity tuberose; La Chasse Aux Papillon with its lighthearted tuberose laden bouquet and other cheerful greenish airy florals, and last but not least – the dusky, toxic Tubereuse Criminelle, where rubber and wintergreen are boldly used alongside dense white blossoms of orange and tuberose. And I adore the creaminess of Noix de Tubereuse.

Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa) is a flower related to narcissus and is native to Mexico, where it is called a "bone flower" in Aztec (Omixochitl). The name tuberose has nothing to do with rose, but with the tuberous or swollen roots of the plant. Therefore, the Latin name of the plant really means a plant with many flowers and tuberous roots. In Victorian times, young ladies were forbidden to roam the tuberose fields after dark from fear that they will lose their innocence due to the seductive influence of the flowers. In tropical countries, tuberose flowers are strewn into leis for ritual purposes (along with jasmine or marigold in India, for example) and for beauty and sheer pleasure (i.e. paired with plumeria and gardenia in Hawaii).

Tuebrose grows in other parts of the world - both for fresh cut flowers (I'm always excited to find them at the flower shop!) and as a raw material for perfumery (mostly in India nowadays, and to a far lesser extent in Southern France). There are 12 species of tuberose, and the one used for perfumery is different than that of the cut flower we are more familiar with, and has to be grown from the bulb for 4 full years before it will actually bloom. In France, tuberose may still processed in the traditional enfleurage method, which involves animal fat (lard and tallow). Tuberose is very unusual in that it releases more scent after it has been removed from the plant, making the process of enfleurage ideal and most efficient way to extract its fine aroma. However, because of religious reasons, neither of these fats can be used in India (Cows are holly to the Hindu, and pigs are forbidden among the Muslim population). Therefore, it is only extracted with a solvent (hexane) to produce its absolute.

The scent of tuberose is different from each locale and of course is different in enfleurage or in absolute forms. The enfleurage seem to capture more of the medicinal, rubbery and salicylic notes (reminiscent of wintergreen). Generally speaking, tubrose is often compared to jasmine and ornage blossom in its makeup, although it has no indole at all. It is rich, creamy, opulent and heady, with some animalic, licorice, medicinal, powdery notes. In the absolutes, I have tuberoses that range between powdery and even a little green, to buttery and milky/lactonic notes with hints of bitter almond (which makes it a perfect companion to tonka bean) and all the way to intensely heady and high in orange-blossom notes (from methyl anthranilate).

I adore tuberose and find it to be one of the most intriguing essences to work with. I even went as far as using it in my White Potion truffles and am planning to find other fascinating culinary uses for it, which I’m sure to share here on SmellyBlog once my experiments lead to a desirable result. But for now, I’m trying to explore its darker sides in perfumery, i.e. the more rubbery, medicinal, wintergreen notes, and see what can be done with that without the aid of synthetic aromachemicals or isolates. Curious minds want to know how far I can push this to… At least my mind is!

Stop And Smell The Roses

Self Definition, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.


did the rose
ever open its heart
and give to this world all of its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light against its being,
otherwise we all remain too
- Hafiz

The perfume of rose not only opens the heart of the person smelling it; it also opens the heart of the perfume, making it complete.

The beauty of rose unfurls its spiral-shaped blossom, unfolding each petal as it progresses. There always seems to be more depth to the perfume of rose. Which is why when we stop to smell the roses, we tend to take long, deep breaths... There always seems more to it in the next inhale, and the next one... Just a short whiff won't cut it!

It is impossible to imagine what perfumery would be like without roses. The beauty of rose essences - both the attar (rose otto) and absolutes add an irreplaceable quality to a perfume, making it round and harmonious.

Part of the appeal of roses is their complexity. Rose is one of the most complex botanical essences, of which 540 elements were identified; yet it is still inimitable by means of synthetics. But it is also rose’s complexity that makes it one of the most challenging natural raw materials to work with in perfumery.

As discussed in the previous article, the roses most used in perfumery are the Rosa damascena and Rosa centifolia. Rosa damascena is mostly steam distilled to produce Rose Otto – the best of which comes from Iran (but is hardly ever imported anywhere out of the Arab world). Persian rosweater is used during the prayers in the Hadj in Mecca to cleanse the Kaaba.

Like many natural raw materials, rose essences olfactory profile varies greatly depending on their geographical. On the whole, some generic observations can be made: rose has a typical “rosy” scent, which characterizes this unique flower essence, and is mostly derived from the high percentage of citronellol and geraniol, as well as phenyl ethyl alcohol (in the absolute), which gives the fresh-petal note. In addition, there is citrusy aspect (from citral), and a slightly spicy aspect, from eugenol (which is also present in cloves and allspice, for example). It also contains many trace elements, which vary from species to species (i.e.: ionone, which is much stronger in Tea roses). On a scent strip, rose begins as a fruity, rosy, full-bodied, even wine-like or honey-like, and softens as it dries down, sometimes showing some green aspects (I suspect this is because the flowers’ sepals and base are also extracted in the solvent). It dries down into a woody and even slightly animalic note. Rose is a heart note, but very long lasting, and depending on the context of how it is blended, it may even act as a base note.

Rosas bravas de Arronches, originally uploaded by moitas61.

Bulgaria’s Valley of Roses produces the finest Rosa damascena attar and rosewataer. White rose bushes (Rosa alba) grow at the edges of these fields. After Bulgarian rose otto, the next best quality is of Anatolian rose otto (from Turkey). The Bulgarian otto tends to be more light, and to me smells more true to the fresh flower. Turkish rose otto is heavier, more full bodied and with a certain wine-like and even slightly earthy qualities. Other locals of rosa damascena of lesser qualities come from Russia, India, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. The Indian roses have a peculiar off note that makes them completely different than anywhere else in the world. It’s as if they take with them some of the earthy qualities of the Indian soil. This kind of rose has, of course, its own beauty, but is less desirable for Western perfumery purposes. It lends itself beautifully to more exotic blends, with an Asian or Indian theme.

It’s important to note, that producing the steam distilled essential oil does not capture the entire scent of the rose. The important molecule phenylethyl alcohol, for example, remains in the distillate water, and is mostly responsible for the fine aroma of rosewater.

Rosa centifolia, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Rose absolute, from solvent extraction, is primarily extracted from Rosa centifolia, (Grasse in France and Morocco are the major growers), and only to a lesser extent from Damascus roses in Bulgaria and Turkey. The absolute captures a fuller spectrum of the living rose. It must be noted, that the rose absolute is so extremely concentrated, it is best to dilute it down to as low as 10% to unfold and release the aroma of fresh rose petals, and fully understand this raw material.

Similarly, too high a proportion of rose in a formula can pose challenges. It can make the perfume too dense and rich. This is particularly true for purely natural perfumes, which are always in danger of becoming cluttered or too dense. Rose is used in all fragrance categories:
In classic colognes, it is used in a very low proportion along with citrus and herbs for a refreshing and light citrus fragrance.
In Orientals, rose has a central role in harmonizing and rounding off the composition, bridging between the rich resinous base notes and the light citrus or exotic spice notes at the top. Rose will have a similar role of bridging and rounding in Chypres. In both cases, rose lends itself readily to being the star of the show, in a rose-dominated Oriental (i.e.: Parfum Sacre) or Chypre (Nuit de Noel). And of course – it is essential in floral bouquets and is the most popular soliflore of the all.

According to Shiseido’s research, fragrant roses can be classified to 6 different categories – all of which seem to be difficult to describe without reference to other roses:

Damask Classic

Combination of the “strong and sweet Rosa centifolia with the exuberant scent of Rosa gallica”

Damask Modern
Similar to the above, but with “more passionate sophisticated scent”.

Scent of Tea
As mentioned earlier, the violet and tea-like qualities of China roses added to the damask or centifolia roses, added a more delicate, graceful, and somewhat reminiscent of tea aroma to hybrid tea roses.

Damask Classic or Tea Rose with the added nuances of fruit, such as peach, apricot, apple, raspberry, etc.

Blue Scent
Charcterisics of both damask and tea roses.

Spicy Scent
Damask Classic, with accentuated cloves scent (from eugenol).

rosa_rugosa_3_coin_de_jardin, originally uploaded by JD-roud.
Similarly, just as there are many rose breeds, with various colours, shapes, sizes and odours, even rose-dominated perfumes have a lot of variety within them. Let’s explore some of the main ones:

Fresh Rose
These rose perfumes have a very light, almost realistic rosiness, and are as close as could be to the fresh living flower.
i.e.: Tea Rose, Evelyn Rose, Stella, Rosebud

Green Rose
Often a nearly Chypre type, these green florals excude the briskness of crushed leaves, grass and rose petals.
i.e.: Ivoire, Kelly Caleche, l'Ombre dans l'Eau, No. 19, Grin

Fruity Rose

Fruity, full-bodied, sometimes wine-like, and at times with added fruity notes such as peach, apricot, apple, etc.
i.e.: Grand Amour, Spring Flower

Powdery-Sweet Rose

Roses paired with violet or orris. Soft, powdery and often sweet with a somewhat old-fashioned air to them. Vanilla is also not a rare thing to find in this rosy category.
i.e.: Paris, Bvlgari, Lipstick Rose, N'Aimez Que Mois, Cabaret

Big Abstract Rose
Modern interpretations of the rose have painted it with large strokes and less components than in old fashioned rose formulas, making them less realistic, but not any less romantic, despite their boldness
i.e.: Nahema, Tresor

Animalic Rose
Rose with an intentional animalic base makes it… well, a little naughty. Civet and musk are particularly effective to that extent.
i.e.: Joy, Agent Provocateur, Megumi

Earthy Rose
When paired with earthy notes, such as patchouli, rose grows bigger and stronger; as if on a fertile soil that allows her to fully develop luscious petals. Notes such as patchouli are the most important to that effect and this genre has become quite popular now (especially with the new restrictions on oakmoss). Of particular interest is Alexander McQueen's Kingdom, in which the cumin note adds a sensual earthiness.
i.e.: Kindgom, Midnight Poison, Philtre d'Amour, Taurus

Musky Rose
Rose with a light, musky base. These can often be also quite powdery.
i.e.: Tocade,
Poussiere de Rose

Dark Rose

Often from the Chypre family, dark roses are haunting, mysterious and full of depth.
Dark rose impression is often achieved by pairing it with mosses, spices and animalic notes.
i.e.: Nuit de Noel, Black Rose, Song of Songs

Spicy Rose
Roses have always been paired with spices, both medicinally and for culinary purposes. It is not surprising, than, to find that roses go well with spice in perfumes as well. Spicy roses don’t necessarily need to smell like potpourri. Some are the most luxurious rose perfumes that I’ve ever came by.
i.e.: Parfum Sacré, Ta'if, Fête d'Hiver, Roses et Chocolat
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