The Beautiful Lactones : Of Peaches, Cream and White Flowers

What are lactones and why are they so enticing? As their name hints, lactones are aromatic organic compounds with a milky, creamy scent. Lactones lend their characteristic scent to peaches, milk, tuberose and even spicy vegetables like celery and lovage. They occur in white meat, which is one of the reasons why prosciutto and mozzarella or prosciutto and fruit make for such a delectable combination.

With their voluptuous qualities, lactones are well-suited to perfumery and they are among the most commonly used materials. The most famous example of the use of lactones is Guerlain Mitsouko. As I’ve explained in my previous article, in 1919 Jacques Guerlain experimented with gamma undecalactone, which had been discovered only a few years earlier. He found that when he wove this peach skin-redolent material into a dramatic mossy-woody accord popularized by Coty Chypre in 1917, the effect was that much more vivid and luscious. The rest, as they say, is history.

In my introductory video on lactones, I explain what makes lactones so alluring and how they are used in perfumery. I also ask you to solve a perfumery puzzle: What’s the difference between a peach and an apricot? Anyone care to guess?

Mitsouko, of course, is not the only fragrance with a creamy peach inflection. Chanel Coco and Allure, Dior J’Adore and Rochas Femme use lactones for a memorable effect. For a soft and delicate interpretation, there is a niche classic, Annick Goutal Petite Chérie.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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44 Comments

  • Tourmaline: Thanks for this fascinating insight into perfumery – especially into recreating the scent or flavour of apricot.

    On Tuesday, I made a rich chocolate cake to take to lunch with my father and my aunt the next day. I put half a bar of good quality cooking chocolate into the icing! Having made a cake from scratch so recently, today I cheated and made a packet orange cake, however I added the rind of a whole lemon to the prepared icing mix that was supplied, and it made all the difference.

    I look forward to trying a peach and orange compote as soon as there are some good peaches available. June 12, 2020 at 10:12am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s a good idea as it would add a deeper layer of fragrance. Plus, whatever orange flavor they might have used for the mix, adding fresh zest would be better. June 12, 2020 at 1:33pm Reply

  • Armando: I think I know! Orange! June 12, 2020 at 10:55am Reply

  • olia mishchenko: So interesting, something to save for when the Niagara apricots and peaches are available here in Toronto.. meanwhile, the lovage in my garden is at its verdant best at the moment. i have a Romanian recipe for the soup my friend shared with me long ago, and i occasionally use Любисток “tea” as a hair rinse, which is one of those Ukrainian traditional beauty recipes. Wondering if you use it and how. How do you use lovage, Victoria? June 12, 2020 at 1:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: Lovage with boiled potatoes and butter (instead of dill) is a great combo. It gives a spicy, green accent, while still letting the buttery-creamy flavors stand out.
      Chinese celery is another vegetable I love and it also contains lactones. June 12, 2020 at 1:37pm Reply

      • Eliza: Interesting! I never knew Chanel Allure had a peach accord and I used up a whole bottle of it in my younger days. In Petite Cherie, too, I smell more of pear then peaches. June 13, 2020 at 2:12pm Reply

        • Victoria: It has both, but the lactone-based accord is important. June 14, 2020 at 10:09am Reply

  • Rakasa: Yea! Thx Victoria for delving deeper into the profile of my most beloved perfumes! Without diving into the chemistry that makes Apricots & Peaches sing differently in fragrance, Apricots are both sweet & tart (3 gm sugar) whereas Peaches have a very juicy, deeply honeyed, milky, sweetness (11 gm sugar). Peach Lactones also have a chemical profile that can persist on human skin for hours, if not days. While both derive from the Rose family and the genus Prunus, they arose in different regions and differ in size and cultivation as well as the texture of their outer skin. Prunus Persica (Peach | China/Persia) is a species of plant/tree while Prunus armeniaca (Apricot | Armenia/Siberia) is a cultivated fruit. Also of note: the stones of peaches are poisonous to humans (cyanide) while apricot seeds can yield multiple medicinal and cosmetic components.

    My favorite perfumes with a peach focus are: Shay & Blue White Peaches, Guerlain Mitsouko, Chanel Coco, Baryshnikov Misha, and Frassai Tian Di. I also adore the more tart, apricot, facet found in Osmanthus flowers as showcased in Hermes Osmanthe Yunnan, The Different Company Osmanthus and Maher Olfactive Crystal Moon. I’d not realized Annick Goutal Petite Cherie was a delicate option in this arena so I’ll have to check it out.

    What are everyone else’s treasured peach or apricot focused fragrances? June 12, 2020 at 1:30pm Reply

    • Victoria: That acidity is the reason why apricot is duplicated by adding orange oil to a peach base.

      Osmanthe Yunnan by Hermès is my favorite when it comes to capturing the softness of peach skin. June 12, 2020 at 1:40pm Reply

    • Neva: Thanks for the interesting information, Rakasa. My favourite peach perfume is Tresor. I’m talking about the old version. I don’t know if the recent one is still so plush and peachy. Kilian’s Flower of Immortality is also a very nice peach perfume. June 25, 2020 at 5:14am Reply

  • Giuseppe: Although there can easily be aromatic lactones, the word “lactone” in chemistry mean a cyclic ester while the word “aromatic” means a compound that contains an aromatic ring. They are two different kinds of rings. If a molecule contains both kinds of rings it can be called an aromatic lactone. I studied chemistry more than 30 years ago but I think these definitions are still valid. The undecalactone you have cited, for example, is aliphatic, not aromatic. June 12, 2020 at 1:31pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, you’re right, and that’s how I’ve been taught. In perfumery, however, our vocabulary is slightly different, and the word aromatic in this context refers to the hedonic aspect. June 12, 2020 at 1:32pm Reply

  • Alison: My favourite perfume is La poudree by Lyn Harris for Marks and Spencer, it is peachy, vanillary, rose, oriental and powdery and iris, it works beautifully on me and sadly they discontinued it. June 12, 2020 at 5:25pm Reply

    • Aurora: Hello Alison: Oh La Poudree is so lovely. Powdery but not too much with the lovely fruits. I also like La Rose, a mossy rose. And they were so affordable. June 14, 2020 at 5:15am Reply

      • Victoria: I like it very much. June 14, 2020 at 10:12am Reply

      • Alison: Lovely aren’t they June 14, 2020 at 3:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve never tried it, but it sounds pretty. June 14, 2020 at 10:06am Reply

  • Rhinda: That was very informative! Thank you. My granddaughter watched the video with me and we will try your experiment! June 12, 2020 at 7:11pm Reply

    • Victoria: I hope that you have fun trying it. June 14, 2020 at 10:06am Reply

  • Peter: Mahalo Victoria for your recent lactone video. A freshly picked peach is a true gift from God. This peach/lactone note is one that I’m not able to identify. I do love Mitsouko and Coco. I used to wear Bond No 9 Chinatown, which is supposed to have a peach inflection. June 12, 2020 at 7:43pm Reply

    • Victoria: So true!
      I’m going to make a video specifically to address this issue within a week or so, promise. June 14, 2020 at 10:07am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: A very ripe, unblemished white-fleshed peach eaten raw, the juices dribbling down one’s neck: that truly is paradise for me. Apricots on the other hand, I find most delectable when cooked: a compote with a whisper of cinnamon, or a barely sweetened tarte aux apricots with cold crème chantilly—oh my! June 13, 2020 at 11:50am Reply

    • Victoria: I also like peaches (even so-so peaches are great for this) poached in white wine and vanilla. As for apricots, I also prefer them cooked, unless they’re perfectly ripe. Unfortunately, here they are never are. The only time I had delicious ripe apricots was two years ago when I was in Ukraine during the season and our apricot tree was ready for harvesting. June 14, 2020 at 10:09am Reply

  • ClareObscure: I have had a satisfying time reading these comments. I love the inclusion of some info about the chemistry of creating perfumes. Much as I agree with OnWings of Saffron about eating peaches when ripe, I’m realising that I prefer the apricot accord in perfumes. I find the famous fragrances named here & by Victoria in her article are somewhat cloying & too sweet for me. I’m more attracted to the Osmanthus note. June 13, 2020 at 9:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: Lactones can come across as sweet, especially if the other notes are vanilla, balsams, musks. June 14, 2020 at 10:10am Reply

  • Rakasa: Very much so! Wholly concur with you and OnWings of Saffron on the edible joys of white peaches. But as my taste buds and sense of smell evolved, I discovered I‘m far more partial to the spicy tart-sweet balance of White Nectarines. I even eat frozen slices of them during summer, finding them a far more satisfying treat than any sickly sweet, sugar drenched frozen fruit bar. But when it comes to fragrance, I land squarely back in your camp: with the door barred against nauseating, cloyingly saccharine scents. Over time, I was actually rather stunned to discover that I adore gentle translucent apricot notes and the entrancing apricot fuzz facets of Osmanthus in fragrances, while I most thoroughly detest the taste of apricots! Those same factors are what led me to cherish generous splashes of the smooth balance of Julie Masse’s White Peaches on scorching summer days; and the peach-incense glow that emanates from Olivier Gillotin’s Tian Di on gentle summer evenings. Victoria’s insights, and the lively exchanges of this community, have also not only blown the windows on my medical confinement wide open, this spring, they’ve drawn me to commence a deep dive into the study of organic chemistry, fragrance formulation and adjacent olfactory sciences. Any recommendations y’all may have on what books/resources I ought to be studying first, second, third … will be greatly appreciated! June 14, 2020 at 5:05am Reply

    • Aurora: I’ll let more knowledgeable people answer your question, but I wish you better health soon. June 14, 2020 at 5:23am Reply

    • Victoria: I recommend the books and articles by Philip Kraft. You can google his name and start reading (some magazines do require a subscription, however). It will be a great start, if organic chemistry in the fragrance context is what draws you. June 14, 2020 at 10:11am Reply

      • Rakasa: Excellent, thanks! Looking forward to finding Kraft’s writings. June 15, 2020 at 2:26pm Reply

    • Victoria: And above all, please take good care of yourself! June 14, 2020 at 10:12am Reply

  • Aurora: Thank you so much for explaining the difference between the two fruits. I’m leaning apricot at the moment, mainly because it is delightful in a perfume I enjoy so very much, Asja. June 14, 2020 at 5:28am Reply

    • Victoria: Asja is a great example of how luscious lactones can be. June 14, 2020 at 10:13am Reply

    • Kathy: Thank you, Aurora mentioning this – I have Asja, and I will have to compare it with Mitsouko to see if my nose is “smart” enough to sort apricots from peaches. June 15, 2020 at 6:57pm Reply

      • Aurora: So glad you like Asja too, comparing it with Mitsouko sounds like a great experimet. June 16, 2020 at 10:48am Reply

  • carole: I think another Annick Goutal scent has peach-the EDP version of Matin d’Orage. I have the EDT, and I remember reading you liked this one too-which version did you wear, the edt or the eep? I have the EDT, but the EDP has a vanilla and myrrh dyrdown. June 14, 2020 at 8:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m not quite sure, since I don’t have the original bottle. I think that it was the EDT.
      In general, lactones are among the most common perfumery materials, and even if you can’t detect them clearly, they’re often added to round out floral accords or to accent fruit. June 15, 2020 at 1:49am Reply

  • Rakasa: Glad to. i can see exactly why you enjoy Asja so and why I would, too. Disappointing its been discontinued. Do let me know if you have any source(s) you trust that likely stocked direct. I’ve had such mixed results with Ebay and the like that I’ve stopped buying any fragrances through those channels. Once I realized Asja’s creator was Jean Guichard, I remembered another scent designed by his son, Aurelien, that you might also like: Bond No. 9 Chinatown. Victoria’s review of it is spot on, as hers always are. Appreciate the well wishes from all. The adjustments are a challenge, but I’ll be ok once we finish designing a new infrastructure for me to live without gadding about other countries or my hometown. Am very lucky my career let me travel so much before now; plus that technology is enabling so many new means of support and reaching out. June 15, 2020 at 2:35pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s important to find any way to feel like you have others around you, whether or not they’re close in terms of distance. And having a new project is also a good idea. June 16, 2020 at 4:15am Reply

    • Aurora: Hello Rakasa: ow I feel a bit guilty for referring to a discontinued perfume. My bottle was from eBay and the juice really well preserved (bottle opaque gold and black), I purchased it a few years back already, and from eBay UK as I am in London. If you go the eBay route ever again, the best is to go with a highly-rated seller who accepts returns, ideally, to avoid disappointment. Thank you for the info on Chinatown, it is new to me. That’s an interesting family connection, Jean and Aurelien.
      Best wishes for your health and stay safe. June 16, 2020 at 11:09am Reply

  • Kathy: Thank you for another excellent video! Tuscany per donna by Estee Lauder is one of my top five; give me peach, carnation, and sandalwood any day. Also, some peach tree varieties are not that hard to grow, though one has to learn pruning and watching the rainfall totals. I have a small yard in the Midwest, and I have had a succession of peach trees on the west side of my front yard (the grafted ones live about 10 or so years). I grow “Starks Early White Giant,” having discovered that white peaches have a floral note, and tender skins that are good, too. June 15, 2020 at 6:50pm Reply

    • Victoria: I discovered that the flat peaches are the most fragrant of the varieties we have available at stores. They’re rarely picked ripe, but even so they are richly perfumed. June 16, 2020 at 4:17am Reply

  • Nina Zolotow: I loved this video and it led me to watch your other videos as well. They were such a delightful distraction from what’s going on in the world these days, and I warned my husband I was probably going back down the perfume rabbit hole again (he said, “Go for it!”).

    Have you ever made fresh peach sorbet? It’s just the most gorgeous peach dessert and very simple. We use the Lenotre recipe. It’s just sugar, lemon, and fresh peaches (not cooked).

    Several years ago I went through a phase of exploring and liking peach fragrances, such as Chinatown, which is so interesting with the incense-peach combination, and Peau de Peche by Keiko Mecheri, which is more simple and pretty. But, then, I don’t know, I somehow didn’t want to smell fruity anymore so it’s been years since I wore them. This post makes me want to check them out again. (I never get much peach from Mitsouko, though, which is a bit of a disappointment.) June 17, 2020 at 1:39pm Reply

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