benzoin: 3 posts

Benzoin : Fragrant Resin From Laos

Luang Prabang, a town in northern Laos, is a city of magnificent temples and old royal palaces. Although far from undiscovered by tourists, it still has a quaint ambiance and a 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.

Laotian benzoin is a balsamic resin tapped from the Styrax tonkinensis trees. Redolent of vanilla and cinnamon, it’s a material with centuries old history. Its uses for incense, pharmacology and cosmetics have been recorded since antiquity, while in perfumery it has always played an important role as a warm base note. Today it continues to be highly valued. In fragrances, benzoin can be found all over the scent wheel, from citrus colognes to ambers. Classics like Chanel Égoïste and Guerlain Shalimar rely on its sweet accent. It’s also used for scenting toothpaste, soap, and a variety of other day-to-day necessities.

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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

Story in the Bottle : Laotian Benzoin Article

I have an article in the September 2013 issue of Perfumer & Flavorist magazine. It’s called “Story in the Bottle : Supporting Natural Ingredients Article,” and it’s about benzoin production in Laos. Benzoin is a vanilla scented resin used widely in fragrances and flavors, but its supply chain is extremely fragile. It’s mostly grown in the mountainous regions of Laos where small communities gather it to supplement their income. As the younger generation moves to the cities and other sources of income become more appealing, traditional activities like benzoin collection disappear. A loss of benzoin could have significant consequences to perfumers’ palettes.

benzoin

A similar story could be told about many other natural raw materials used by the perfume industry, and I take a look at the current situation and what is being done to support the producers. Perfumer & Flavorist is aimed at the professional audience, so the article is on the technical side. Still, if you’re curious about such topics, you might like to take a look.

“The northern regions of Luang Prabang, Phongsali, Houaphan and Oudomxay supply the bulk of the benzoin used in the perfume and flavor manufacture. Benzoin is a balsamic resin obtained from the genus Styrax. The Laotian resin, tapped from Styrax tonkinensis, is considered to be of the highest quality, given its unique blend of vanilla, cinnamon and almond facets. In perfumery, benzoin can be found all over the fragrance wheel, from citrus colognes to orientals. Classics like Chanel Égoïste and Guerlain Shalimar rely on its velvety accent, while the addictive richness of this balsamic note is important for the caramel and chocolate flavors in ice creams and pastries.”

The magazine is currently available at www.perfumerflavorist.com.

If you’re curious to read more about benzoin and other resins, please take a look at my post Perfume Vocabulary: Resins and BalsamsPrada Candy contains the high-grade Laotian benzoin, and it’s one of the most interesting benzoin dominated compositions on the market. Despite a  generous dose of this rich, warm resin, Candy has a luminous, bright quality. On the dark and brooding end of the spectrum, I love the layer of benzoin in Chanel Coromandel

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, benzoin tears.

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