2008-12-29

Jasmine: chemistry of smell


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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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