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Image: a sample jasmine formula made from synthetic components by AromaX
It’s interesting to notice that the first formula of a jasmine base seemed to be an attempt to reconstruct the jasmine absolute. It has was build from the same components in the similar proportions as it was known about hundred years ago. Here is the formula I found in a perfumery book. Its name is Jasmine base No.1:
Benzyl acetate – 130 (65%)
Benzyl alcohol – 40 (20%)
Linalool – 20 (10%)
Methyl anthranilate – 10 (5%)
There are some reasons why you can’t see cis-Jasmone and Indole there although they make a part of jasmine absolute formula as it was known in 1912. cis-Jasmone was synthesized in 1932, but it was a very expensive synthetic material. Even now it’s four times more expensive than ylang-ylang oil or ten times more expensive than lavender, bergamot or basil oils.
The biggest problem of Indole is discoloration. Exposed to light it acquires reddish brown colour and is often substituted with other components. Without Indole this jasmine base has a larger application spectrum.
So far I don’t have any suggestions why linalyl acetate is not used there.
The Jasmine base No.1 is not really a jasmine – it’s a jasmine giant. Smelling it is like standing in the middle of a giant jasmine flower covered with a sticky and acrid nectar. The sharpness of benzyl acetate is almost hurting the nose’s mucous membrane. The base has recognisable fruity floral character of jasmine, but recalls an urge either to dilute it or to smell it from far far away. It still can be used as a jasmine component of a complex fragrance.
To me it was a challenge to experiment with this base and to try to make it more close to the jasmine absolute formula from 1912. I did noticed that:
Linalool increases the freshness of the base, but can’t beat the sharpness of benzyl acetate unless you take too much of linalool. But than it totally kills the jasmine character of the base.
Linalyl acetate in combination with Linalool gives an interesting fresh note reminding me of the tannic bitterness of green tea. Is also easy to overdose, because at the certain concentration it becomes an independent note that doesn’t makes a part of jasmine anymore.
cis-Jasmone – is a nice material that tames the sharpness of benzyl acetate. But not its strength. The base loses its acridness and the giant jasmine becomes smaller. Although it still remains to be a mutant jasmine, it’s not the raptorial flower anymore that stupefies you with its smell and digest your flesh with its acrid nectar.
Indole – it was interesting to notice, that small quantities of indole couldn’t really compete with benzyl acetate. And it was easy to overdose. Although this aromachemical gave some idolic properties to the base, it couldn’t really blend with the rest into give a dark narcotic note of jasmine.
After a small make-over the base became more tempered. Although it still wasn’t a real jasmine flower, but rather a decaying mutant flower as big as my hand. The notes of linalool with linalyl acetate as well as indole were not completely blended into the jasmine smell.
Some synthetic materials could help me to tame the beast of benzyl acetate, but I did want to stay close to a jasmine absolute formula from 1912. So, for some finishing touch I decided to use some naturals.
One drop of Bergamot oil was a nice blender for linalool and linalyl acetate. And two drops of Ylang Ylang oil helped Indole to feel home and also tempered benzyle acetate. I am satisfied with the final result. Of course it’s not a jasmine soliflore, but it is similar to some jasmine perfume oils and it can be a jasmine base in a floral heart of a complex perfume giving it a fruity floral jasmine nuances. Of course, the use of some modern aromachemicals could help to improve this formula in a much easier way.
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It’s amazing what science did with our world. Sometimes I think that the modern analytical methods are developed enough to solve any mystery of Mother Nature. Even such a ethereal substance as fragrance can be separated into the molecules. But the wisdom of our Mother Nature is still inconceivable and too sophisticated in all its appearances. For example, there are more than 300 constituents of jasmine oil found, but still no one managed to reconstruct the natural jasmine absolute that would match the natural product by smell and by composition. Not in a hundred years…
In 1912 the following jasmine oil constituents were known:
Benzyl acetate - 65%
Linalool - 15,5%
Linalyl acetate - 7,5%
Benzyl alcohol - 6%
Jasmone - 3%
Indole - 2,5%
Methyl anthranilate - 0,5%
Phenol compounds with narcotic odor – traces.
Whay are they? Let’s have a closer sniff:
Benzyl acetate – hyperconcentrated jasmine fruitiness at a toxic dose. Very sharp and strong, reminding of a solvent (like a nail polish removal). It’s not unpleasant. In contrary, its sweet jasmine floral fruitiness is nice, but there is just too much of it. It’s also referred as a fresh. Indeed it is, but only in small concentrations. Undiluted it’s a beast that nature could tame within the jasmine fragrance. The perfumers have also succeed in taming of benzyl acetate, but still cannot compete with nature as they can’t use it in the concentrations as high as it’s found in natural jasmine absolute.
In perfumery benzyl acetate is one of the most common (and cheapest) aromachemical used to create a jasmine-fruity note not merely to jasmine, but also to gardenia, muguet, lily and fleur d’orange.
Linalool and linalyl acetate. Linalool possesses a fresh floral fragrance with woody undertone. It’s the major constituent of the rosewood (about 80-97%) and has a similar smell. It’s impossible to define it’s floral component as it could be any flower. Linalool can be found within the composition of numerous flowers, fruits and herbs. Lilalyl acetate often follows linalool in floral and fresh fragrances. It has a similar smell with a distinctive sweet fruity note.
Benzyl alcohol. Has a faint floral fruity smell. I can also smell an almondy note there that comes as a result of oxidation. The quality can influence the smell dramatically. Can be found as a natural constituent of many flowers. Although it’s almost odourless, benzylacetate is used in perfumery as a fixative.
Indol – is a real wild beat you better never meet undiluted. In low concentrations it’s a nice dark narcotic fragrance with an leathery animal undertone. Once I was making a jasmine base. According to the formula I had to add a couple drops of indol at the end. The result was amazing as it extended the spectrum of a fragrance by giving it a perfect depth. From white innocent flower jasmine became a mature seductive temptress playing on primitive instincts.
Jasmone (cis-Jasmone). Also found in the oils of jonquil, neroli and fleur d’orange absolute. A multifaceted fragrance combining its jasmine floral character with fruity, spicy and herbal (celery seed) nuances.
Methyl anthranilate is a narcotic component of neroli, ylang, jasmine and tuberose.
Although there are more than 300 compounds of jasmine absolute are found, some of the major aromachemicals mentioned above still give a good picture of jasmine fragrance. I can still find back the nuances I emphasized before: white floral euphoric note, dark narcotic note, floral jasmine fruitiness, freshness, creaminess and spiciness.
Later I shall describe each of the jasmine absolute compounds in detail.
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Image: One of the favorite jasmine absolute
Jasmine essential oil is an interesting perfumery fairytale. Does it exist? Yes, it does. Jasmine essential oil is a mixture of volatile components of the jasmine flower. Is it possible to yield those components as essential oil? No. Those fragrant volatile components are only yielded as absolute.
Essential oils can be yielded either by mean of expression or by mean of distillation. Expression can be applied only when the plant contains a lot of essential oils (like citrus peel). For distillation the plant should still contain enough essential oil and should be resistant for heating.
Jasmine flowers contain too little essential oil that can be yielded only by mean of solvent extraction or by an old method of enfleurage. The extraction is simple. Fresh opened blossoms comes in contact with volatile organic solvent (like benzene or hexane) and replaced with fresh flowers again and again till the solvent is saturated. After the solvent is eliminated from a saturated solution, the mass, consisting of volatile components and non-volatile waxes and colures is left. It’s concrete. This concrete is partially dissolved in pure alcohol to separate non-soluble waxes from the fragrant part. After filtration and elimination of alcohol the absolute is left. Thus, absolute contains almost the same volatile components as essential oils, but also less volatile (or non-volatile) components and (naturally occurring) colorants. The presence of less volatile components makes absolutes smelling different (somewhat deeper) than essential oils.
Enfleurage is romantically described in the book of Patrick Süskind “Perfume”. This method uses the high affinity of volatile components to fat. Freshly picked blossoms of jasmines are places on the trays of greased plates for 24 hours. They are replaced with fresh blossoms each 24 hours till the fat is saturated. This saturated fat is called pomade. The absolute can be extracted with alcohol the same way as it is extracted from the concrete. Due to its costliness enfleurage is almost everywhere substituted by solvent extraction.
Thus, there is no Jasmine essential oil available on the market. Only absolute. So, if you hold a bottle of Jasmine essential oil than it’s probably a synthetic fragrant oil (if it’s clear) or an absolute (especially if it’s dark and viscous). But it’s also can be an infused oil. In India the method of infusion is applied to capture the smell of jasmine. The blossoms are processed with a hot oil till it is saturated with a jasmine fragrance. Such an oil is not an essential oil, but an infused Jasmine oil (often called Chamelli-oil).
It’s also possible to distil jasmine blossoms together with sandalwood. The product is called Jasmine attar – a mixture of jasmine and sandalwood essential oils. Such an attar might be by mistake called pure Jasmine essential oil.
Theoretically it’s also possible to distil essential oil from absolute, but this method is not used in perfumery.
Jasmine absolute is a very expensive product with varying quality. That is why this absolute is often adulterated. The cheaper synthetics are used to mix with absolute and decrease the prime cost or to improve its olfactory characteristic.
A couple of interesting facts:
- Because only freshly picked blossoms are used for solvent extraction, concrete may be only produced near the jasmine growth place. But absolute can be made from concrete everywhere. Some perfume houses makes their own absolute from concrete they buy.
- Absolute may be made from a mixture of different concretes from different places. Mostly it’s done to provide a kind of standardized jasmine absolute. It would be difficult to say from what growth place such an absolute comes from.
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As I already have mentioned before, A la Nuit by Serge Lutens is a kind of reference jasmine to my nose (or may be better to say one of the references). Especially in the beginning I can clearly smell all the components of the jasmine scent I have mentioned before: a fine euphoric note of the white flower, a deep and dark narcotic note of indole and an exotic fruitness of benzylacetate. At the very first moments I can even clearly smell the green notes I wanted to find in the jasmine smell so much. All those components are not only easy to separate in this fragrance, but they also looks a bit magnified or emphasized. Probably this slight exaggeration was the reason for Madame Turin to call this fragrance a “jasmine jasmine” or a “death by jasmine”.
On my skin A la Nuit can behave differently. Yesterday it was very capricious trying to protrude its aspects one after another until all of them had found peace and started to behave as a whole. But today it was very kind. A la Nuit even showed me its green notes I wanted to find in jasmine but couldn’t. It opened on my skin as a jasmine blossom slightly glimmering in a darkness and whispering me about the fantasy worlds full of mystery, miracles, love and passion. It was trying to seduce me to reveal my deepest desire and to surrender myself to the jasmine fantasies.
How does Christopher Sheldrake made this fragrance? Was he attempting to recall and recreate the essence of jasmine based on the thoroughly composed mixture of absolutes? Or did he want to approach a kind of jasmine image from his own perception? What I mean is that I think that there are three main ways to create a soliflor. The first one is when a perfumer tries to approach a live blossom. Like Lys Mediterranee by Frederic Malle with all its nuances of even nuances of stalk and blossom dust. Another way is to approach a kind of image of the flower that is an interpretation based on the individual perception of the flower. Like Un Lys by Serge Lutens. It doesn’t have the nuances of the live lily, but emphasizes its essence on the vanilla background. There is another variation of this way when a perfumer gives some new nuances that don’t even exist in the live flower to make it more a fantasy fragrance. The third way is when an essential oil or absolute is taken as a base (or a mixture of them or even different species of the same flower) and analysed to recognize its basic aspects. Than each aspect taken apart can be developed, emphasized and decorated. I guess that a lavender accord at Kiki by Vero Kern and incense accord at Incense Extreme by Andy Tauer might be build this way. But, it´s only a gues…
It´s interesting to notice that three sorts of Jasmine are mentioned to be used in A la Nuit – Jasmine from Egypt, India and Morocco. Formerly French Grasse was the main source of Jasmine where they bottled the smell of Jasmine by mean of enfleurage. But now Egypt, India, China and Marocco are the main suppliers of Jasmine absolute. The last one can be also a standardized blend of jasmine absolutes from the different sources. Even if a perfumer used just a drop of it in her or his perfume he may write about “thoroughly selected jasmine from Egypt, India, Maroco etc.” used to create the fragrance. But I still do believe that Christopher Sheldrake did really work with three different absolutes to create The Jasmine for his A la Nuit.
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Image: Jasmine in a "Tropical paradise" on Texel (Dutch island) by AmromaX
At this moment I am in love with white florals again. But what are the white florals? Jasmine, Ylang, Gardenia, Tuberose, Muguet, Lily, but also white Rose petals, white Lilac together with Hyacinth, Cyclamen and so on… So many different flowers with completely different smells can be called white florals. To understand them better I decided to take them one by one. Let’s Jasmine to be the reference flower as it’s the most used fragrance in perfumery.
How someone can describe the smell of Jasmine? If I try to analyse it with my nose I can define the following basic constituents. The first one is the fine white euphoric note – this note I can smell almost in all white flowers and it’s the finest in the smell of lilies. And an octave higher I can smell it in Hyacinth. Of course, it’s a bit different in each flower, so, let’s call this one a jasmine type fine white petal note.
Another very strong note is a sweet fruitiness. It’s difficult to determine what fruit it could come from as it’s very specific to jasmine and some other flowers like lilac. It comes from benzyl acetate – the main constituent of jasmine absolute and the jasmine smell.
There is also another euphoric note, a dark one. Indole might be the closest smell to describe it. It’s a deep narcotic note with a slightly dirty animal undertone – very prominent in jasmine absolute. Let’s call it a dark narcotic note of indolic type. I think I can also smell a similar dark narcotic note in tuberose and gardenia, but than it’s not indolic, but rather heavy tropical fruitiness with a rotten undertone.
Those three notes are the most characteristic to jasmine as my nose smells it. But there are also some minor notes like a creamy one. This one is much more characteristic for Gardenia and Tuberose, but I can also recognize it as a part of jasmine fragrance. Green notes are difficult for me to find behind the overwhelming narcotic and fruity notes. Books say that green notes are distinguishing for Sambac type of Jasmine – one of the two main jasmine species used in perfumery. But so far I couldn’t compare those two types to smell the difference and catch those green notes.
So, what could be a reference jasmine? Of course the live flower is The One. But it’s not always available when you need it. And jasmine absolute smells different from the live blossom. So far I decided A la Nuit by Serge Lutens to be my reference jasmine and inspiration.
Image - from Aveda website
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Today is the Bodhi day, the Budhist holiday, the day of enlightenment. According to the legend Siddhartha Guatama has spent some time meditating under the Sacred Fig to find the Truth. And finally he awoke enlightened and became the Buddha as we know him. It’s a very good day to learn some traditions from Far East. If you are a witch or astrologer you might like to try I Ching. If you are a perfume lover you might like to try some Oriental perfume.
I have chosen the Yatra by Aveda. It seems a good choice to me as Yatra means spiritual journey in Sanskrit. It’s a blend of Australian Sandalwood, Biodynamic Bulgarian Rose, Biodynamic Bulgarian Lavender and Organic South African Rose-Geranium. Aveda produces plant-based perfumes and cosmetics from natural and when possible organic ingredients.
Smelling Yatra from a vial was really disappointing – first some sour citrusy fresh notes and later harsh turpentine wood. On the skin it was the same, but aggravated by a dominating geranium note that reminded me of a fellow blogger who said that geranium should be banned from perfumery for its effect to kill the delicate blends (well, actually she meant the perfumery blending for beginners).
While blending with the skin chemistry Yatra started to transform into a beauty. First she came as a cold milky semitransparent wood with soft and rosy geranium note. Warmed up it appeared as a creamy and almost sweet vanilla woodiness, smooth and silky contrasting the cool floral notes. Lavender plays cool shadowed background that helps to reveal all beauty of Sandalwood. The perfume keeps playing with its opalescent notes changing from reserved soothing lavender to rich and sweet creamy sandalwood.