Vanilla et Co: Anthology of Sweet in Perfume
This edit explores the use of vanilla, its alternatives and sweet materials closely related to it.
The natural delicious irresistible and proper aphrodisiac vanilla comes from cured pods of a tropical orchid which grows in the wild or is cultivated in Mexico, Tahiti, Madagascar, Indonesia and Bourbon Islands. It’s a rare, capricious plant and it’s all done by hand when it comes to pollination, harvesting and curing. The food industry (Coca-Cola, believe it or not, and premium ice-cream producers) scoop most of the crop and perfumers are not left with much.
So it’s so much easier to use vanillin, and other chemicals which naturally occur in vanilla (heliotropin which smells of Play-Doh, and coumarin which smells of marzipan with a hay-licorice nuance) with a sprinkle of ethyl maltol and similar compounds (which smell like caramelized sugar).
So when you see “vanilla” in the list of notes it can be anything of the above, and often a combination.
To make sense of it all we have put together an edit explaining what could be that sweet shade in the perfume and made it available as a sample pack complete with samples of raw materials.
The only other material in the edit that can offer a sweet nuance the caliber of natural vanilla in terms of complexity but it’s never as sweet. The main chemical contributing to tonka’s aroma is coumarin. However, there are lots of nuances: woody, caramel, even spicy. Both perfumes selected for the edit utilize the cool woody aspect of tonka and both are bestsellers.
Naturally occurs in vanilla, and can be produced synthetically. It smells a lot like sweet dry hay with a hint of licorice. Often coumarin is used alongside green smelling materials to add freshness and make herbaceous or leafy ideas more convincing and real. We selected a huge licorice perfume (Liquo) and a formula which smells a lot like the space inside a tropical green house (Hummingbird). Both are good examples of the sultry sweet and green nature of coumarin.
The source of vanilla flavor and perfume are the cured pods of a tropical orchid. Different varieties are harvested in several parts of the world.
Vanilla fruit are collected by hand in remote jungle forests in Mexico, essentially in the wild. On Bourbon Islands and Madagascar they learned how to grow vanilla in plantations but each orchid has to be pollinated by hand (rather a finger). Tahiti and Indonesia also offer their own vanillas with unique olfactory profile.
We have picked 3 perfumes in which real vanilla plays a significant part in the formula: Anima Dulci with Mexican vanilla, PG21 Felanilla with a mix of Bourbon and Taihitian varieties and Memoirs of Trespasser with Madagascar vanilla. Although you’d expect those to be the sweetest perfumes in the edit don’t be surprised how richly woody they actually are. Real vanilla aroma is composed of the smell of vanillin, heliotropin, coumarine but the magic comes from a tiny fraction of amino acids unique for each geographic region and harvest year.
Another fraction contributing to the aroma of natural vanilla. On its own heliotropin smells powdery, slightly bitter and maybe cherry like. It’s quite often used in floral compositions to give flowers a velvety touch as if they are dusted with pollen.
9 out 10 vanillas listed in perfume compositions in mass production are very likely that. A chemical that naturally occurs in vanilla and massively contributes to its aroma and which can be synthesized in infinite quantities. Vanilla though is much more than vanillin. The latter smells warm, delicately sweet but doesn’t possess the rich complexity of natural vanilla. However, there are instances when perfumers need exactly that linear and simple effect of vanillin. A perfect illustration for that is Civet by Zoologist where vanillin lends its simple linear warmth to the animalic core and PG15 Ilang Ivohibe in which vanillin adds sunny warmth to ylang-ylang.