Scent and Chemistry : The Molecular World of Odors ~ Perfume Book Review


When I learned via the publisher Wiley-vch about a new book on fragrance science authored by the prominent chemists Günther Ohloff, Wilhelm Pickenhagen and Philip Kraft, I immediately placed a pre-order. Ohloff’s articles have been my favorite perfume geek reading since I first started Bois de Jasmin and I already knew of Philip Kraft’s work through his revealing Perfumer & Flavorist article on Chanel No 5, so I impatiently anticipated my book to arrive. For the past couple of weeks, I have been spending my free moments with Scent and Chemistry: The Molecular World of Odors, learning about aroma-materials and their role in some of the most renowned fragrances on the market.

Before I go further into my review, I have to warn that this book is aimed at chemists, perfumers and fragrance lovers with a strong taste for technical details. Well, the title gives it away, doesn’t it? Imagine a carefully researched and documented academic work in a chemistry journal, and you have a good idea of what to expect from Scent and Chemistry. If you like pouring over the molecular structure of odorants, learning what kinds of ionones are used in Dior Poison and just how much linalyl acetate is contained in bitter orange oil, this book is for you. So please take it either as a warning or encouragement, depending on your interests!

Those who love chemistry, however, will find Scent and Chemistry to be a fascinating glimpse into the world of fragrance science. The book is based on the award winning work by Günther Ohloff, Riechstoffe und Geruchssinn. Die molekulare Welt der Düfte (Scent and Fragrances: The Fascination of Odors and Their Chemical Perspectives). One of the most renowned fragrance chemists, Ohloff (1924-2005) worked for Schimmel & Co, Dragoco and Firmenich, where he researched and perfected the synthesis of aroma-materials and odorants. His original work was not a big tome, but it contained so much information that it quickly established itself as a standard fragrance chemistry book.

Scent and Chemistry is driven by the same curiosity and painstaking attention to detail that characterized Ohloff’s original publication. It revises and extends the material, backing it up with over 400 perfumery examples. The eight chapters cover topics like the history of chemical discoveries, structure-odor relationships, natural raw materials and some of the most widely used synthetics. Additional information is provided to illustrate some of the most notable perfumery trends such as the use of sweet notes in mainstream perfumery and dark incense effects in niche. Every chapter is backed up by a bibliography containing hundreds of useful references. To me, this alone is worth the $78.99 price tag—yes, academic books are expensive!

I enjoy the range of examples used in Scent and Chemistry, where next to the bestsellers like Burberry Brit and Lancôme Trésor, one finds niche offerings like Comme des Garçons Incense Jaisalmer and Annick Goutal Ce Soir ou Jamais—the latter established a record by using 0.45% of rose redolent beta damascone. It is also interesting to learn about the chemical synthesis of odorants, which reveals why some man-made materials are as expensive as the naturals. All in all, it is a densely packed 418 pages, and it makes for a great reference volume. As such, it definitely has its own audience, but I hope that the authors might also consider writing more of a layman’s book about raw materials. Given their unique perspective and a wealth of knowledge, it would be a great addition to a perfumery bookshelf.

NB: Corrigenda is available via Scent and Chemistry Facebook page.

Scent and Chemistry: The Molecular World of Odors by Günther Ohloff, Wilhelm Pickenhagen, Philip Kraft, 2011. ISBN-10: 3-906390-66-7; ISBN-13: 978-3-906390-66-6

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  • Karl: Sounds like a book for me! I studied chemistry as an undergrad but then ended up going to the law school. So thanks for an interesting review. I always learn something new from your blog. March 6, 2012 at 11:13am Reply

  • Elisa: Adding this to my Amazon wish list. I *wish* it weren’t $79!! March 6, 2012 at 11:43am Reply

  • Victoria: Glad to hear it! If you have a chemistry background, this book will be a breeze for you. March 6, 2012 at 12:06pm Reply

  • Victoria: I originally pre-ordered it from the publisher, but I ended up cancelling my order and going with Amazon. It is a better price, esp. with free shipping.
    Still, a pricey book, like most academic publications. March 6, 2012 at 12:08pm Reply

  • AromaX: Thanks for review. I was still doubting about this book as I couldn’t see inside and thought it might be too similar to other books I had. But your examples about ionones (I have a special relationship with this guys) told me this book might be much more interesting read than I hought. March 6, 2012 at 12:25pm Reply

  • Victoria: I don’t have anything like this in my library. It’s very unique in its treatment of the material, and the examples are very interesting. March 6, 2012 at 1:10pm Reply

  • Victoria: Adding: but the book does presume that you know the fundamental principles of chemistry. Think of it as an advanced chemistry textbook, which is exactly what it is. March 6, 2012 at 1:11pm Reply

  • Gogol: Thank you so much for this review. I’m a geek at heart and this sounds like something I would um… enjoy. March 6, 2012 at 1:24pm Reply

  • Victoria: Hey, always great to meet more perfume geeks! I should have reviewed more chemistry text books earlier to see that I am not alone out there. 🙂 March 6, 2012 at 1:51pm Reply

  • AromaX: Thanks! No problems with chemistry here – was one of my favorite subjects. Was just thinking that the book might be like another Bedukian’s Perfumery and Flavoring Synthetics. Nice book about the origin and synthesis and the story of synthetics, but a I miss practical examples on applications (like references to perfume creations) there. But finally loved the examples from your review. March 6, 2012 at 4:17pm Reply

  • Thanks for this wonderful review. I suspect the book is way over my head, but I’m going to give it my best! March 6, 2012 at 4:59pm Reply

  • Gogol: Yes, please! I love perfume for all the obvious reasons, but the geeky side is the lovely extra bit that keeps me completely hooked. An analysis of different ionones – yummm – wonder whether author discounts still exist at Wiley… (geeky voice trails off) March 6, 2012 at 8:35pm Reply

  • Bernadette Lim: Ah, the geeky-heart wants but the wallet bleeds. March 7, 2012 at 12:01am Reply

  • Victoria: Yes, it is different from Perfumery and Flavoring Synthetics in that S&C is driven heavily by examples. That’s the best part of the book for me. March 7, 2012 at 9:16am Reply

  • Victoria: By the way, Gogol is one of my favorite authors, so seeing your screen name was a pleasure. March 7, 2012 at 9:19am Reply

  • Victoria: You’re welcome, Cheryl! Hope that it will be worth it. March 7, 2012 at 9:19am Reply

  • Victoria: I felt it too! 🙂 March 7, 2012 at 9:20am Reply

  • Jonathon Midgley: OMG!!! This book sounds like the Dead Sea Scrolls of Perfumery!
    I absolutely LONG to read it! Those aroamchemical details are what distinguish a volume such as this from the pop-culture diatribes on “scent”!!! Any person seriously into Perfumery would welcome the aromachemical details. And the price tag of $79 is a steal! I have paid many times more than this for all of my other Perfumery textbooks.
    This sounds a winner for sure! March 18, 2012 at 4:55am Reply

  • Rachel: I’m a little late I just stumbled upon this post, but this book is available at public libraries especially at universities if you are weary of the price tag! June 27, 2012 at 9:47am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Rachel! That’s a great advice. I’m all for using and supporting the public library system. June 27, 2012 at 10:16am Reply

  • sweetpea: Forgive me, but when they write something along the lines of,

    “Perfume X contains an astounding 10% of vetiver oil”

    does that mean 10% of the scented components, fixatives, etc., is vetiver oil, and then that mixture is in additional dilution at whatever strength the perfume is at?

    That is, would 10% vetiver oil in an EDT at 10% strength mean 1% vetiver oil in the entire composition?

    I looked over the book and was surprised I couldn’t figure out this convention. Pretty sure Borneo isn’t 57% pure patchouli oil. Is it 57%, then in dilution? July 3, 2012 at 2:31pm Reply

    • Victoria: You’re right. It’s 57% in the fragrance oil mix, which then gets diluted further with alcohol and water. July 4, 2012 at 5:36am Reply

      • sweetpea: Many thanks! July 4, 2012 at 11:46am Reply

  • Lavanya: V- I have always loved chemistry though I haven’t done much chem since my first year in undergrad. I am in a very scent nerd mood – especially stuff like the structure of scent molecules, what about the molecular structure gives a molecule its scent and that kind of geeky stuff. Will this book satisfy? Are there other more basic scent chemistry books you would recommend. I know I’ve asked you this before but I couldn’t find that particular comment thread. So thought I’d ask again in the proper place. .:) [oh and I haven’t forgotten about the allam pacchadi] September 1, 2013 at 4:26pm Reply

    • Victoria: It would satisfy, although I wouldn’t call the discussion basic at all. Still, it’s probably the most basic scent chemistry book I know, especially since it links materials with the perfumes in which they are used. September 4, 2013 at 1:21pm Reply

      • Lavanya: Thanks Victoria! September 4, 2013 at 1:28pm Reply

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