On the Spice Route

I spent much of last year traveling and researching the way spices and other aromatics are grown. My pursuit took me to the clove gardens in Indonesia, cumin fields in India, and the cassia cinnamon groves in Vietnam. The word ‘spice’ contains the same root as the word ’special,’ and I wanted to discover how these unique fragrant plants are transformed into essences and used in perfumery.

The journey was full of revelations. I learned, for instance, that processing clove essence involves not the buds of the tree, the familiar cloves of mulled wine and gingerbread, but rather the stems and leaves. All parts of the clove tree contain essential oil with varying scent profiles. The leaves release sweet-smelling essence, but the one derived from the stems has a smoky, woody accent.

Inspired by these travels, I sought up spice dominated perfumes and in my recent FT magazine article, Spice-Laced Scents, I share a few favorites.

In Hermès Epice Marine (£185 for 100ml EDT), toasted cumin adds a savoury twist to the earthy vetiver and citrus cologne. The lemony cardamom (another favourite Indian spice) adds a shimmering top note, while the mellow cedarwood serves as a polished backdrop. All the while, the dark note of cumin glows seductively. To continue reading, please click here.

What are your favorite spiced fragrances?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, nutmeg with mace



  • Fazal: I think one of the best spicy fragrances I tried last year was Kenzo Jungle Pour Homme. I did make sure to get the original formula. On the contrary, I don’t like female Jungle that much even though the female one is the more popular. Another popular spicy fragrance Caron Parfum Sacre puzzles me. I just cannot seem to make up my mind whether I like it or not. Despite being a relatively modern creation, it is very much in the vein of classic Carons from the first half of the 20th century. January 20, 2020 at 9:36am Reply

    • Victoria: I agree that it’s quite exceptional. I like both versions, but the masculine one has a beautiful woody twist and many layers.

      Parfum Sacre is a strange composition, because while being spicy, it’s also dry. This is not a common combination in this genre. January 20, 2020 at 9:47am Reply

  • Silvermoon: I enjoy spicy fragrances best in the cooler months (autumn and winter if thinking in seasonal terms). I tend to prefer the fresh and sweeter “baking” effect spices over the “cooking” curry effect ones.

    Among my favourites are Noir Epices (nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves), Baume du Doge (cinnamon, cardamom and saffron) and Onda (ginger, mace and coriander).

    The curry oriented ones that are good, but sometimes overpowering, are Jungle Elephant (not sure if that’s considered female or male) and Fougere Bengal. January 20, 2020 at 10:24am Reply

    • Victoria: Fougere Bengal is a beautiful perfume, but it can definitely be difficult to carry off. It’s not a mild thing! January 20, 2020 at 10:55am Reply

    • Victoria: The other perfumes you’ve mentioned also fall into the spicy-dry category. It’s one of the most intriguing styles, for me at least. January 20, 2020 at 10:56am Reply

      • Silvermoon: Victoria, intriguing that you describe them as spicy-dry. I tend to think of them as “warm but fresh spicy”. Yet, I can see why they would be categorised as “spicy-dry”. January 20, 2020 at 11:12am Reply

        • Victoria: That also makes sense to me. Freshness as opposed sugary sweetness. January 20, 2020 at 1:07pm Reply

  • Hanh-Trang: Dear Victoria,
    How delightful it is to be able to do a personal spice route!
    While it is perceived that oud wood comes from the Middle East, much of oud wood actually is grown in Southeast Asia and the area where I grew up, Khánh Hòa, in the center of Vietnam is known as the land of oud wood (ask for “xứ trầm hương” and you would be pointed to Khánh Hòa, although do to fast growing tourism and commercailism, I don’t know how much of the wood cultivation is left). Traditionally, it was mostly used as incense and burning in small amounts on altars.
    Wild sandalwood also grows in the North Center of Viet Nam, also they are hard to find. It seems that the country has some sucess in growing some breed of sandalwood imported from India from 2006. The future will tell. January 20, 2020 at 11:16am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, you’re right. South East Asia now produces most of agarwood, while the Middle East consumes it.
      It would be curious to see whether the sandalwood growing will take off in Viet Nam. You certainly have a good climate for a variety of plants. January 20, 2020 at 1:08pm Reply

  • Lily: I love spice in my perfumes! I’ve come to realize that is the link between my very favorites. So my favorite notably spicy perfumes:

    FM Noir Epices
    Caron Parfum Sacre
    ELDO Noel au Balcon
    Burberry London for Him
    L’Artisan Parfumeur Fou de Absinthe (to me this is like a cologne version of the Burberry, lighter and a little cooler but markedly similar character and composition)
    Penhaligon’s Elixir
    Hermès Galop

    Most of these are also fairly dry, which I find interesting. I have a lot of natural sweetness in my skin scent, I think, so the dry but spicy really works on me (where notably sweet or fruity fragrances often don’t work, though I have fallen for a couple with fruit notes like Galop and Narciso Rodriguez).

    I personally don’t find Bvlgari Black or Houbigant’s Orangeurs en Fleur to be spicy (compared to those above) but they are sometimes described that way so they can be bonus scents.

    Can’t wait to read everyone’s lists! January 20, 2020 at 12:48pm Reply

    • Victoria: What a great and varied list! Thank you for sharing.

      I also don’t find Black spicy, since the woody-burned rubber notes dominate all else. January 20, 2020 at 1:09pm Reply

      • Lily: Yes, exactly! But every now and again it will hit me with a peppery burn that’s more felt than smelled so maybe that’s why some experience it as spicy. January 21, 2020 at 8:21am Reply

    • Aurora: Hello Lily: It was thanks too you I discovered Burberry London for men when you recommended for Xmas on recommend me a perfume.
      I still enjoy it very much.
      We seem to have perfume in common as I have and love Parfum Sacre and really liked Noel au Balcon when I tried it. January 22, 2020 at 12:12pm Reply

      • Lily: I am so glad you still enjoy it!!! Of all my “fall/winter” scents it is the MOST cold-season, I just really cannot wear it without a nip in the air. I was really happy to find Fou D’Absinthe bc that one is cool and light enough for spring and summer! Hm, maybe I shall wear it today! We just had a front move through so it’s chilly…where I live in Texas, winter vacillates between 40 degree days and 70 degree days (Fahrenheit lol)

        I believe Noel au Balcon is the same nose as the Burberry, actually. Antoine Maisondieu.

        I have two Olivia Giacobetti’s on the list, too (Elixir and Absinthe). Huh. I know AM is known for spice, I don’t think she is. I think those are the only doubles though January 26, 2020 at 9:05am Reply

  • Mel: My favorites are L’Artisan’s Dzongkha and Timbuktu and Tea for Two

    Also, Etat Libre D’Orage’s Like This January 20, 2020 at 1:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: Such nice choices! 🙂 January 20, 2020 at 1:10pm Reply

  • Hamamelis: Neela’s Trayee, Dzongkha, April Aromatics Bohemian Spice and YSL Nu or its equivalent Yves Rocher Accord Chic (discontinued).
    Sables and Like This if Immortelle counts as curry! January 20, 2020 at 1:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: YSL Nu was such a great spicy incense. One of a kind. January 20, 2020 at 1:36pm Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: I just got myself a used bottle of Serge Noire (vintage) on ebay. Goodness—what a tour de force: a relentless clove! I believe Tania Sanchez calls this a disaster, yet Neil Chapman speaks appreciatively of a stunning beginning.
    I’m still wondering… Perhaps I’ll use it to layer, but somehow I’m afraid people won’t be impressed. January 20, 2020 at 4:46pm Reply

  • Sylvia Long: I love sandalwood! It’s not a spice but I guess it is considered an aromatic? I love and wear Santal Majescule all winter. I still wear Hermes Ambre Des Merveilles, an interesting perfume I found reading your beautiful review of it, but, something has happened in my personal chemistry, and the beginning doesn’t work on me, any longer. I love the finish of this perfume though, especially on clothing. Can you tell me what are notes that are in its dry down? I would love to find a perfume with those notes featured more prominently! January 20, 2020 at 6:55pm Reply

  • Erry: Indonesia has many types of body oil that contains spices essences/oils, among others Telon Oil, Kutus Kutus Oil and Wasp Oil (no wasp involved). It can be found easily in stores.

    My favourite is Telon Oil, which is usually used for babies but adults also love it. The basic ingredients are Cajuput (or eucalyptus) Oil, Coconut Oil, ad Fennel (or aniseed) Oil. There are other variants that also contain lemongrass oil, lavender oil, chamomile oil, or green tea oil. For me and many Indonesians, it is the smell of childhood; associated with innocence, warmth and comfort. It is something I reach when I want a comfort scent. It lasts quite long, about 6 – 8 hours, although on the 3 hours you can only smell it close on your skin, but you still get a whiff of it for long. January 21, 2020 at 12:13am Reply

  • Gelia: Oh, what a difficult question. I love spices, but it has so different effect. My favourite, already mentioned here, Elephant is my cozy winter shawl, I get warm after applying a two drops of it. Same effect I get after wearing Oriental Lounge and absolutely adore it’s spicy opening.
    At the same time Epice Marine and Poivre Samarcande give some cooling effect. I am not wrapped in something warm anymore but rather can feel fresh air on my skin.
    Again different effect is from Kiss Me by Nicolai – cute, sweet, playful. January 21, 2020 at 3:59am Reply

    • Sylvia: Hi Gelia,
      I have not smelled Elephant. What is it like? January 22, 2020 at 11:39am Reply

      • Gelia: It’s like Indian Masala tea for me. Tons of spices, smoothed by milk and some hint of black tea.
        It was doscontinued for some time, but now is back. January 25, 2020 at 4:13am Reply

        • Sylvia: That sounds interesting Gelia. Thank you for your reply! January 26, 2020 at 5:04pm Reply

  • Klaas: I think Andy Tauer has a real knack for spices……he sure uses lots of them! Even though I find his fragrances a bit too overwhelming to wear, I appreciate his work very much. His perfumes are almost a genre on their own. January 21, 2020 at 12:20pm Reply

    • Silvermoon: Hello Klaas, today I am wearing L’Air du Desert Marocain. I really love it, and especially on a cold crisp sunny winter day. It is a perfume that I think of as dry or fresh spicy, even though its notes don’t mention spices at all. It’s more an aura that suggests spices. Not sure if this makes sense? But it ties in with your comment about Tauer’s “real knack for spices “ January 21, 2020 at 3:47pm Reply

      • Klaas: Hello Silvermoon, oh, LADDM is such a glorious, warming fragrance! I wear a little on my wrist from time to time…..it just radiates with warmth and comfort, and it lastst and lasts…..I’m pretty sure there’s cumin and coriander in there!

        Did you ever try Au Coeur du Desert? I like it even more then LADDM! January 22, 2020 at 10:53am Reply

        • Silvermoon: No I have never had a chance to try ACDD. Your comment intrigued me. So, I just checked the comments on Fragrantica and saw many people compare the two. I shall look out for it next time I am somewhere that stocks Andy Tauer. Although I must say I love LADDM and find it very wearable. January 22, 2020 at 2:48pm Reply

          • Klaas: L’ Air is gorgeous indeed! January 22, 2020 at 3:38pm Reply

  • Tara C: I think my favourite spicy scents are Noir Épices and Fêtes Persanes. January 21, 2020 at 2:38pm Reply

  • spe: Timbuktu, Noire Epices, and the aforementioned Nu are my favorites. Thank you to the poster who mentioned Parfum Sacre – need to give that one a test. I stepped back from spicy dry scents and I’m not sure why, being a great fan of dryness in scent. Thank you for the delightful read! January 22, 2020 at 9:14am Reply

  • Sylvia: Hi Klaas,
    I was intrigued that you liked something better than LADDM. What does A Couer du Dessert smell like to you? Is there any one or two notes that are strong? January 22, 2020 at 11:37am Reply

    • Klaas: On the Tauer website it is described as a reworked Extrait de Parfum version of L’ Air, which is pretty much what it is. The two are very similar, Au Coeur being a bit more subdeud and subtle. There is a bit more darkness in there (patchouli and ambergris), it has less sillage and is less sweet. Which is why I prefer it over LADDM, but that is purely a matter of my own personal taste……. January 23, 2020 at 5:41pm Reply

  • Aurora: Wonderful that you followed the spice route, it sounds so exotic.
    Spicy perfumes I enjoy: like Lilly Caron Parfum Sacre, I love its opulence and its forever drydown, I also enjoy very much spices in the summer, I really like what JC Ellena did with Voyage (for its cardamom) and Apres La Mousson. And I remain faithful to the mostly forgotten 90’s Kenzo L’Eau for its two types of pepper. January 22, 2020 at 12:17pm Reply

  • Aurora: Oh, and alas I don’t get along with cumin in perfume, but still I admire the caraway in Diorama, and love it with carrots. January 22, 2020 at 12:25pm Reply

  • Roxann: One of my first niche fragrances I bought 6 years,ago was Jo Malone Ginger and Nutmeg. Its almost gone and my tastes have changed the more I explored more niche houses. My favorite spice is Tea for Two. I don’t have a lot of spicy fragrances and I enjoyed reading what other people enjoy to test and perhaps add to my collection. January 22, 2020 at 12:30pm Reply

  • Sylvia: Less sweet and mire subtle sounds good. Thank you Klaas! January 26, 2020 at 5:07pm Reply

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