A Perfumer’s Guide to Benzoin

Luang Prabang in northern Laos is a city of magnificent temples and old royal palaces. Although far from undiscovered by tourists, it still has a quaint ambience and mellow pace of life. It stretches languidly along the Mekong, glittering with the numerous golden spires that grace its pagodas. Visitors are attracted here by Luang Prabang’s beautiful architecture and even more by its splendid cuisine, but I made the journey for the aromatic material called benzoin.

Benzoin is one of the most essential ingredients in a perfumer’s palette, and whether I’m creating accords for my perfumery courses or as part of my research, I often turn to this rich, balsamic note for warmth and sweetness. In my new FT column, A Perfumer’s Guide to Benzoin, I describe my track to the benzoin plantations in Laos and then discuss how this ingredient is used in fragrances. If you’re curious to try it, I give a few interesting options, from both niche and department store brands alike.

Benzoin is also used in Papier d’Arménie, a type of incense. I once wrote about making your own: Papier d’Arménie At Home.

To read all of my FT Magazine columns, please click here. They appear on a bi-weekly basis.

Do you know that benzoin is also a popular flavor used in candy and even toothpaste?

Image via FT

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12 Comments

  • spe: Very helpful information, Victoria. There is a note in these example fragrances that doesn’t agree with me. Now I realize benzoin is likely the culprit. Something that smells both sweet and just a bit sandalwood /synthetic to my nose. Thank you. May 7, 2018 at 10:25am Reply

    • Victoria: That doesn’t sound like benzoin to me. Rather, I think that the issue is one of woody aroma-materials. May 7, 2018 at 1:52pm Reply

  • Ingeborg: An interesting text, thank you. Of the perfume examples I only know Prada Candy and the classic Egoīste well. I think benzoin must be a note I really like, even if I don’t enjoy Shalimar much. So I will try to learn more about it, to be able to tell it apart from some other notes. May 7, 2018 at 6:11pm Reply

    • Victoria: There is so much going on in Shalimar, to be sure. Benzoin is one of many notes, but if you remove it from the formula, Shalimar loses some of its velvety softness in the drydown.

      Also, if you know the incense called Armenian paper, Papier d’Arménie, you also already know the scent of benzoin. May 8, 2018 at 2:16am Reply

      • Klaas: Ah, Victoria, the papier d’Armenie reference is really helpful to me! So that’s what benzoin smells like? I recognize it quite strongly in Vetiver Velours (Keiko Mecheri), benzoin being one of its components. Thank you! May 8, 2018 at 7:08am Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, exactly. Of course, when it’s burned, it’s smokier and spicier, but you get the idea.

          Laotian benzoin has such a delicious scent that it’s not surprising that it inspired Prada’s Candy. May 8, 2018 at 8:09am Reply

  • Akimon: Thank you for writing, again, about benzoin. I really enjoyed your post about Laotian harvest from few years ago. This is one of my favorite notes and I was curious to find out which perfumes would be featured in the FT write up. I quite like Prada Candy, a very witty perfume, and I enjoyed wearing Atelier Rose Anonyme for a while but for me, the perfumes that showcase this ingredient best are two all-natural scents, Aftelier Cepes and Tuberose, where benzoin shines in the base, and Strange Invidible Perfumes Étrange (sadly, no longer available) which pits benzoin against seaweed note for a great, disturbingly “strange” effect.
    I don’t remember smelling Chanel Egoiste recently, I will have to search it out. I do love Shalimar in vintage form but I never quite zoomed into the benzoin connection there – that’s a very interesting insight into what makes Shalimar tick. Is the new formula still utilizing benzoin? As it happens, I completely unexpectedly received a sample of current iteration of Shalimar in an order from Sephora – they ran out of some sample I actually requested – few days ago, so I should be able to sniff for myself, but I’m curious about your opinion. Thanks again for your post and FT article! May 8, 2018 at 11:15pm Reply

    • Akimon: Ouch, curse that auto-correct spell checker function built into Safari that turned Strange Invisible Perfumes brand name into something pretty “invidible”- if that’s even a word.. May 8, 2018 at 11:19pm Reply

      • Victoria: Auto-correct has a mind of its own, I believe! May 9, 2018 at 2:42am Reply

    • Victoria: I was thinking of Cepes and Tuberose and a couple of other Aftelier perfumes too, but I remembered them a bit too late, after I had already submitted my article. I made a separate, longer list, and I will publish it at some point. It’s a note that deserves more attention.

      The new formula of Shalimar still uses benzoin, and since it no longer uses animalic tinctures, you can smell benzoin more prominently. Guerlain Bois d’Armenie is another benzoin dominant perfume. May 9, 2018 at 2:44am Reply

  • Aurora: Thank you so much for highlighting this material, I think my most benzoin forward scent is Les Nereides Opoponax, which smells quite like Shalimar, I enjoy wearing it very much for this reason. May 13, 2018 at 7:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: It does, doesn’t it! Not as baroque as Shalimar, but it’s such a good perfume. May 15, 2018 at 3:48am Reply

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