Putting Scents Into Words : Smelling Exercises

Describing aromas can be difficult. We’re used to associating a scent with something concrete–an orange, a rose, a steaming bowl of pasta, so when we encounter even a familiar smell disconnected from its source, we are lost for words. Orange smells like an orange, right? Yet, the more one smells, the more one tries to put scents into words, the easier it becomes. In this post, I would like to put together the videos I’ve recorded of basic smelling exercises that teach how to sharpen one’s sense of smell and to put scents into words. I’d like to have everything in one place for reference and also to add extra notes to each demo.

Why does putting scents into words matter? First, by describing a smell to yourself, you memorize it more easily. This scent memory bank, or olfactory vocabulary, if you will, will help you to recognize scents faster and to recall them at will. Second, any sensory experience is enriched when more than one sense is stimulated, and the ability to describe smells will make your olfactory perceptions richer and will heighten your enjoyment overall, be it the enjoyment that comes from savoring a glass of wine, a piece of cake or from taking a walk in the park. So, let’s start!

Smelling 101

In this video I would like to show you how to smell. It sounds so basic but to be able to avoid the olfactory fatigue which stops us from smelling, a few tips are in order: don’t smell too close to the source, take short inhales, take breaks.

One point I didn’t mention in the demo, but that bears highlighting: If you’re smelling an alcohol-based perfume, wait for the alcohol to evaporate before smelling.

Describing Scents Via Images

When we smell something, especially something new, we often think “like/don’t like.” Or else we start guessing, “Is it an orange? A pear? A banana?” I urge you to step away from that and instead approach each scent as a possibility. Think of images that it evokes. This is what I do in this demo.

Describing Scents Via Adjectives

This is the technique for describing ingredients that I learned at the IFF perfumery school. Each family of aromatics has its specific adjectives associated with it, and in this demo, I use the example of the citrus family to describe the scent of orange via adjectives.

In the professional setting, in order to  be able to communicate, we have to decide on a common vocabulary, but for your own exercises, you can determine a list of adjectives yourself. For instance, if orange smells floral to you, then write down “floral.” More important is to look for the nuances you’ve identified whenever you smell an orange. Let them guide you.

Finding Nuances in Scents

Look for the floral nuance in orange, or as I do here, for a pine-like nuance in lemon. (A hint: it comes from limonene, one of the main components of lemon oil.) It’s easy to smell within the first few minutes of scratching the peel of a lemon since it’s so volatile.

And if you are using a real lemon, scratch it, rub the essential oil on a piece of paper, do the exercise and leave the paper aside for a few minutes. Now smell it again–you’re smelling aldehydes, the same ones that made Chanel No 5 famous. Chanel No 5 uses a cocktail of several different aldehydes (aldehydes C-10, C-11 and C-12 MNA), and some of them such as C-10 occur in citrus like lemon and orange. While the amount of aldehyde C-10 is quite small, it becomes obvious on a blotter. It also occurs in lime and tomato, but with some other components being more dominant it might be difficult to detect. Still, I encourage you to experience and smell everything that can be sniffed safely. Take notes too.

Comparative Smelling

Here is a common professional technique to tease out nuances. Please note that the sequence of smelling as demonstrated in the demo is important.

Please let me know how it goes, and have fun!

More videos via Bois de Jasmin’s YouTube channel

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56 Comments

  • Ali: Oh I enjoyed these posts. When I smell lemon when I’m peeling the skin to make lemonade I smell turpentine. Carnations and soap wort flowers make me think of clove. Benzoin makes me smell old fashioned cola. May 15, 2020 at 11:08am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re making the right connections then. The more associations you make, the better you remember scents and their facets. May 16, 2020 at 9:01am Reply

  • Hana: I love your videos, Victoria. After following your blog for many years, it is great to see you in front of the camera. You are always so friendy and smiley. Also, I am very grateful for your tips on perfumery. It helps me to get more confident when I talk to someone about perfume. May 15, 2020 at 11:49am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much! I’m so happy to hear that you’re finding them helpful. May 16, 2020 at 9:02am Reply

  • Tourmaline: TOPIC: BOIS DE JASMIN’S 15TH BIRTHDAY

    Hi Victoria,

    This will be a little off your essay topic, but I hope you’ll forgive me.

    I’m glad I’ve nabbed a spot early in the comment section, because I’d like as many people as possible – especially the seasoned Bois de Jasmin followers, to read the following news.

    ATTENTION, BOIS DE JASMIN COMMUNITY!
    IT’S BOIS DE JASMIN’S 15TH BIRTHDAY – LET THE TRIBUTES FLOW FOR VICTORIA!

    If I’m not mistaken, Victoria, you have arrived at the 15th anniversary of Bois de Jasmin. I say this because, a few days ago, just by chance, I was searching for some topic or other on this fabulous kaleidoscope of a site, when I happened upon the essay that you posted exactly three years ago today, namely on the 15th of May, 2017. It was entitled “Things I Learned in 12 Years of Bois de Jasmin”. It is a wonderful post, and I couldn’t recall having read it before; I think it is one of the many that I look forward to catching up on.

    So, I would like to say a few words. (Who do I think I’m kidding? As some of you will know, I am almost incapable of writing a brief comment.)

    Dear Victoria,

    Congratulations on planting and nurturing, for 15 years, the fragrant garden that is Bois de Jasmin. How it has grown in size, strength and diversity over those years! See how beautiful it has become – how it hums with life, both day and night. Notice all the bees, butterflies and birds that buzz and flutter around it, helping to pollinate the colourful flowers. See the large circle of topiary bushes shaped like perfume flacons. And watch all the moths, as they are drawn to that plant in the centre – the jasmine vine with healthy tendrils that curl around the statue of the lady holding a scent strip, the foundation plant of the garden.

    (Please forgive my violet prose…)

    Victoria, your last post was about classics; well, I know another classic in the making. It has all the necessary hallmarks – high quality ingredients, originality, a fresh and surprising scent around every corner, a large and steadily-increasing flock of the faithful, and every chance of remaining in favour for decades to come. Why, it has already been a roaring success for 15 years!
    The diversity of topics discussed on Bois de Jasmin really is unusual and outstanding for a blog. As regular readers will know, topics include products and techniques for skincare and makeup, plants and gardening, cooking, teas and all manner of other beverages, clothing and style, jewellery, pets (including horses!), homewares such as candles and incense, embroidery, history, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, languages, music, film, ballet, and of course perfumery. How lovely it is to be able to share our thoughts, feelings, experiences, knowledge and ideas about all these topics, and more, in this wondrous virtual space.

    On Bois de Jasmin, most things are discussed with a good serving of humour, and – 99.999% of the time – with goodwill and courtesy. The fact that the Bois de Jasmin community is so genteel and eloquent is no small drawcard.

    But it should be emphasised that the tone of the website is in large measure a consequence of the excellent example set by the lady at the helm. Bad behaviour can be contagious, but so can civility. Make no mistake, gentle reader, Victoria Frolova knows what she is doing, both as a perfumer and as a person. Her emotional intelligence and insight, paired with her diplomacy and facility with language, enable her swiftly to extinguish the odd spot fire. I’m sure that it isn’t always easy, and although she makes it look that way, I know there are times when her apparent ease belies her sophistication.

    Victoria, I have always admired your work on Bois de Jasmin, but over the past couple of months, during the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, I have been particularly impressed, and highly moved, by the way you have managed. In my view, you have displayed as never before your humanity, compassion, kindness, generosity and strength of spirit. I have watched with appreciation as you have opened up and bared your soul (and interesting family history) about coping with tough times, with the goal of connecting with those of your readers who were in need of emotional support, and encouraging us to support each other via this valuable forum.

    Sadly, while you were reaching out to support the Bois de Jasmin community, you must have been biting the bullet to some extent as regards your dismay at having to abandon plans for the Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure in June. You certainly acknowledged your disappointment, but it must have been difficult having to cancel your plans and simply move on, when you’d put so much time into the preparation and had been so looking forward to the trip.

    I was proud of you as you emphasized the importance of self-nurturing, and tactfully stood up to a couple of souls who doubted the need for it. As a retired psychologist, I can confirm how important it is for us all to relax and spend time doing things that are meaningful to us and that make us happy. I can also attest to the way in which exhaustion of body, mind and soul can creep up on us, slowly and insidiously. Self-care is critical in order to replenish our stores of physical, mental and emotional energy. This energy is required, not just to give out again to others, but to enjoy our own lives.

    Victoria, I’m probably not alone in thinking that Bois de Jasmin might be your greatest career achievement, and that it could remain so. When I think of the hundreds – possibly thousands – of people for whom it has provided entertainment, travel, information, education, human connection, support, enjoyment, and the occasional bottle of fragrance – in short, perfumed succour in one form or another, for FIFTEEN YEARS, I don’t doubt it.

    For myself, I find the website to be, in some ways, like a divine set of leather-bound, gold-stamped volumes of an encyclopaedia, which I want to dip into time and again. Sometimes I want to re-read certain entries, and when I do, there will always be something new that I glean from them, perhaps because, in the meantime, I’ve sampled a fragrance that is reviewed, or read a book that is discussed, or perhaps tried one of the recipes. Sometimes, I just want to re-read your exquisite writing. As I said earlier, there is always something fresh to enjoy, even when re-reading, in this veritable feast of topics, masterfully-written posts, and gorgeous photos.

    So, finally, Victoria, bless you and thank you for creating Bois de Jasmin, and for giving so much of yourself to your readers for the last 15 years. I said at the beginning that your website is a classic in the making, and it might sound trite to say that you are a classic, too, even though you are. Instead, I’ll say something else that is true. Victoria, you’re all class. Long may you and your website thrive!

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline May 15, 2020 at 1:15pm Reply

    • Ariadbe: Ah Bravo Victoria! Happy anniversay and many happy returns! Indeed your blog is a place of refuge and rejuvenation in addition to so many other things beautiful. May 15, 2020 at 7:41pm Reply

      • Victoria: Thank you very much! May 16, 2020 at 9:11am Reply

      • ClareObscure: Thanks to Tourmaline for that outpouring of appreciation & to Ariadbe for the Bravo, echoed, I’m sure, by many fans of bois de jasmine. We applaud you, Victoria, for creating a lovely safe oasis of fragrance, books & all kinds of sensory pleasure discussed by erudite people. May 16, 2020 at 8:40pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you, this place wouldn’t be the same without all of you. May 17, 2020 at 4:19am Reply

        • Tourmaline: Thanks, ClareObscure.

          I enjoyed reflecting on my experience of Bois de Jasmin. May 17, 2020 at 5:52am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much for this kind anniversary wish. I finished reading your comment teary-eyed, it really moved me. This means so much to me. I feel very lucky to have readers like all of you, so supportive, generous and kind. These past 15 years have brought so much beauty into my life because all of you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. May 16, 2020 at 9:05am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

        You are most welcome. I must confess that, as I was writing parts of my comment, I became teary-eyed myself!

        With best wishes,
        Tourmaline May 16, 2020 at 11:35am Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you very much again! You’ve made my weekend. May 17, 2020 at 4:17am Reply

    • Karen A: Beautifully said Tourmeline! Thank you for the comment, I know we all share your sentiments! May 17, 2020 at 10:25am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Thanks so much, Karen A.

        The truth is that I’d been feeling awful about the fact that I had not, as yet, contributed a single comment to Bois de Jasmin this year. I’d been reading Victoria’s posts, but I’d been so busy with one thing and another (including looking out for my 91½-year-old father during COVID-19), that I hadn’t gotten around to writing the comments I had in mind. However, when I happened upon the post about the 12th anniversary, and realized that the 15th anniversary was upon us, the dam burst and some special words began to flow.

        I do plan to respond to some of the earlier posts eventually, though. While nobody might read my comments in the short term, at least they’ll be there, amongst all the others, for the “catching uppers”, the newbies and the re-readers!

        With kind regards,
        Tourmaline May 18, 2020 at 5:05am Reply

      • Victoria: Thank you very much! May 19, 2020 at 8:09am Reply

  • Brigitte: Happy 15 year anniversary. A tremendous accomplishment and done so well. I rarely comment but I do read often and it is always a pleasure. Hope you have many more years of BdJ. May 15, 2020 at 4:12pm Reply

    • Cassieflower: 👋🏻 May 15, 2020 at 5:24pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much. 🙂 May 16, 2020 at 9:07am Reply

  • Cassieflower: Everything Tourmaline said! Thank you for your dedication and education. 15 years in the blogging world is an incredible achievement. I hope you spoil yourself this weekend in celebration. 💐 🥂 May 15, 2020 at 5:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! I confess that I’ve been so busy lately that I completely forgot that it’s the anniversary year until my friend Ermano and Tourmaline reminded me. May 16, 2020 at 9:08am Reply

  • Armando: As I have said on Instagram, the learning experience with Victoria is always the best. I’ve been reading BdJ for a long time. The amount of things I have learned over the years, and the countless minutes I’ve spent reading the delightful posts…
    As Tourmaline said, happy 15th birthday to BdJ! And thank you Victoria, for sharing so much. May 15, 2020 at 5:43pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s so rewarding to know that my posts are helpful. Thank you for your nice comment! May 16, 2020 at 9:09am Reply

  • Laurie Brown: Happy anniversary! I love your blog, and it always makes me happy to see it pop up in my inbox. May 15, 2020 at 6:09pm Reply

  • Tara C: I love the videos! And thank you for 15 years of care and devotion to this wonderful blog, it is a valuable contribution to the community. May 15, 2020 at 6:30pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m so happy that you like the videos too. Thank you! May 16, 2020 at 9:09am Reply

  • Alexandra Fraser: Victoria Bois de Jasmine is something quite extraordinary. It is a wonderful resource for perfume information but also inspirational with regard to language learning literature food -and and the kindness intelligence and humanity that shines through every page. Thank you Tourmaline for expressing so well what I am sure so many of us feel.
    And these scent videos. – brilliant resource. Thank you Victoria for your dedication and knowledge shared generously for so many years May 15, 2020 at 7:07pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: Thanks, Alexandra. It was a pleasure to write a tribute to Victoria.

      I agree, the videos are a terrific resource. May 16, 2020 at 4:06am Reply

      • Victoria: So glad that you like them! May 16, 2020 at 9:11am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much for reading and watching! May 16, 2020 at 9:10am Reply

  • Portia Turbo: HAPPY 15th BIRTHDAY!
    Amazing.
    Congratulations.
    Love and fragrant hugs,
    Portia xxx May 15, 2020 at 9:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: I can hardly believe that it’s been 15 years. Thank you very much! May 16, 2020 at 9:11am Reply

  • Klaas: Hahaha, I love this! A surprise party for Victoria!

    Dear Victoria, I so hope Tourmaline is right about the dates, and if not, it doesn’t matter anyway, because you deserve all the praise you can get!

    I’ve been reading Bois de Jasmin for a few years now, and it is the most wonderful place on the www that I know of. Post by post, you bring the world of scent, books, art, languages, food and travel to us in such a inspiring, eloquent and inviting way. Reading (and re-reading) them is such a pleasure!

    And Tourmaline is right in saying that the contributions from the readers are excellent as well. There is not many places online were so much politesse, kindness and respect are the norm. Comment sections usually turn into something quite nasty.

    So Victioria, thank you so much for your dedication and your inspiration, and I sincerely hope you draw as much joy from Bois de Jasmin as we all do.

    Congratulations!

    Klaas May 16, 2020 at 7:27am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Klaas,

      Yes, that’s what it is – a surprise party!

      This evening, I went back and found the very first Bois de Jasmin post, and although it was eight days later than I thought – on 23 May 2005, as you said, it doesn’t matter. After all, Victoria wrote about the 10th anniversary even earlier – on 20 April 2015, and, as I said in my comment, she marked the 12th anniversary on 15 May 2012, which was eight days early.

      Besides, you’re right; Victoria deserves all the praise that she can get. Moreover, I think it’s great that, this time around, the first messages about this major milestone are coming from readers.

      I hope you enjoy your surprise party, Victoria!

      With kind regards,
      Tourmaline May 16, 2020 at 8:40am Reply

      • Victoria: Yes, you’re right, it’s more likely the end of April, but after the blog moved from the old platform, I lost some of the first posts and had to reconstruct them manually. As a result I’m not sure myself what was the official start date. 🙂 Well, it doesn’t matter. What matters more are your sentiments. Thank you again for your moving words. May 16, 2020 at 9:14am Reply

        • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

          It must have been so upsetting/frustrating when you realized that some posts had disappeared. I’m glad that you were able to reconstruct them, although it would have been nice for you to know, for sentimental reasons, the date of your first post.

          You’re right that it doesn’t really matter, though, especially when you consider that people receive the posts in a variety of different time zones. For example, it has just gone 2:15am on Sunday, 17th May here in Brisbane, but it’s later in the day on the 16th where you are.

          I should be in bed, but I watched a late movie and then checked my email and this blog post. I’m glad I did; now I can go to bed happy in the knowledge that you have received our tributes. Once again, you are most welcome; mine was a joy to write.

          Enjoy the remainder of your weekend!

          With kind regards,
          Tourmaline May 16, 2020 at 12:23pm Reply

          • Victoria: I suppose that if I were to look through my old emails, I could piece it together, but that doesn’t matter in the end. We’re here. 🙂 May 17, 2020 at 4:18am Reply

    • Victoria: It was totally a surprise party! I checked the comments last night after dinner and I was completely bowled over, completely taken by surprise. It was so nice.
      Thank you very much for your kind words. You have no idea how much all of you have made my weekend. 🙂 May 16, 2020 at 9:16am Reply

  • Muriel: Happy 15th anniversary Victoria!! I can only agree with the words of praise written by my fellow readers! Your “bois“ is like a garden to me a place of beauty where I can find a comforting refuge and develop my senses under your kind and respectful guidance. I also wish to congratulate everyone in the bois de jasmin community for the wonderful discussions and the generosity found around here! Let’s go for another 15 years!! May 16, 2020 at 2:30pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! 🙂 May 17, 2020 at 4:19am Reply

  • Riv: What a wonderful surprise party 🙂 I love this community.

    Happy anniversary, Victoria! When I first started getting into fragrance more deeply, about 8 months ago, your blog was my guide. The first ever pack of samples I bought was based on your reviews 🙂 There were so many great finds there. May 17, 2020 at 5:39am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much! I’m very happy to hear that my recommendations were helpful. 🙂 May 19, 2020 at 8:09am Reply

  • Inma: Congratulations Victoria!! And thank you sooo much for this blog, for your presence. May 17, 2020 at 9:43am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for yours, Inma! May 19, 2020 at 8:09am Reply

  • Karen A: Echoing all of the congratulations for 15 years! And I really enjoy your videos. Dabbed some Chamade on and am grateful for how much BdJ has expanded my world! May 17, 2020 at 10:29am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! And you smell wonderful! May 19, 2020 at 8:10am Reply

  • Silvermoon: Hello Victoria!
    I have been enjoying your practical and short videos. A great idea to post the first lot about smelling all together in one place (for current and future reference). I have thought it really noteworthy that you have chosen to start posting videos just as all of us have withdrawn into our homes ( and often isolation from others). I think as our visual experiences have dwindled (due to Work, travel and movement restrictions), it is hugely appreciated to have new audio-visual stimuli to add to the written word. Many thanks for doing it (especially now).

    I was very happy to read Tourmaline’s words and to cut a long story short would like to say “ditto”. 😊 I agree with her comments and observations. It’s a delight to be part of this community, beautifully and sincerely led by Victoria, and enriched by the gracious words of everyone who thoughtfully comments here. Once again, thank you for taking care to make Bois de Jasmin what it is. To another 15!! May 17, 2020 at 11:54am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for all of these kind words. You have no idea how much it means to me.
      I decided to do the videos somewhat spontaneously, because I realized that I couldn’t make the trip to Ukraine, and I wanted to share something extra with you. We will see how it evolves, but I’m happy to do it, and I’m glad that you like it. May 19, 2020 at 8:10am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Ah, so that was the spark…!

        Every cloud really does have a silver lining, and this one has the highest quality platinum! (But then, brilliant people get brilliant ideas…)

        But have you noticed what has begun to happen? The style/art questions! You’ll have to begin adding to each accompanying post a section providing details about your feature jewellery, your bright shawls, any interesting or attractive background items and so on. Only half joking!

        You are so generous. Thanks for this extra effort you’re putting in. Victoria’s Videos (V’s Vs for short) are lovely, and bring an extra dimension of life (no pun intended) to your already vibrant blog.

        Please look after yourself. I really don’t know how you fit in all your commitments – you do so much – and we wouldn’t want you to burn out. You must be great with time management. That could be a topic for another day! May 20, 2020 at 4:10pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you, I’m so glad that you like them.
          One aspect of the blog format that I especially enjoy is the possibility of developing an idea and explore different aspects of it. It’s always helpful when one can share with others and hear their input. That’s what I meant by all of you inspiring me–and of course, you inspire each other. This is also clear from the comment section. May 21, 2020 at 7:13am Reply

  • Aurora: Tourmaline said it so well, so I just add my wishes to hers and many happy returns. I’ve followed the youtube videos with great interest and enjoyment, I had chosen mace as exercise and it really made me think. The roses have started in my neighborhood and my favorite smells like Nahema, passion fruit. May 17, 2020 at 12:44pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: Thanks, Aurora.

      I recall sampling Nahéma for the first time. It smelled like Passiona – an Australian passionfruit-flavoured soft drink that was first marketed in 1925! May 18, 2020 at 5:27am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much!
      How a wonderful to have a rose that smells like Nahema. We have many roses around the neighborhood, and one of them smells like lemon and honey. May 19, 2020 at 8:12am Reply

  • Nick: What a helpful exercise! The nuances are at once fascinating and frustrating: one ought to sniff with full concentration in a brief span.

    I didn’t know that N°5 also contains aldehyde C-12 MNA. I thought N°5 contains C-10, C-11, and C-12 and the C-12 MNA is in Quelques Fleurs. How interesting! I ought to re-smell N°5 again. May 24, 2020 at 6:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, that’s why it helps to focus on one nuance at a time. May 27, 2020 at 7:04am Reply

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