harold mcgee: 3 posts

Favorite Perfume Books to learn about history, science, and techniques

Whenever I’m asked about my favorite books, two parallel thoughts flash through my mind–how much time do you have to listen to me and which are my favorite books. As someone who reads in all genres and on all topics, I have difficulty pairing down my favorites to to a small-talk appropriate list. However, when it comes to perfume books, I have no difficulty answering the question; my most read books are always within reach. Today, I will start with a list of books that I use for reference. I read them cover to cover and dip into chapters at random to learn about perfumery techniques, styles, or the fragrance industry.

Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World’s Smells by Harold McGee

I first talked to Harold McGee about this book project more than ten years ago, but I believe that it took him even longer to research it. The wait has been worth it. McGee’s erudition sparkles on every page, and you can open the book on any chapter and find something new about aromas, molecules, emotions — and your own nose. It’s a study of olfaction as well as the world as we experience it through our senses. McGee weaves his personal experiences throughout his discussions, which gives Nose Dive its rich, layered quality. If you’re familiar with McGee’s writings on food and the science of cooking, you don’t need me to advertise this book further. Highly recommended.

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Weekend Cooking and Reading

Cold evenings make me crave ambery perfumes and rich flavors. Tonight I made Shirin Plov, a Persian style sweet and savory pilaf with apricots, rosewater and saffron, which goes perfectly with grilled meat or chicken. Today, I felt that it needed no accompaniment, other than salad and soup.

While browsing online, I found a few articles that I would like to share with you.

Frankincense Fit for a King (One, Anyway): how to grow frankincense at home, something that I would like to do.

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Harold McGee on Taste and Olfaction : Flavor and Fragrance


While working on a new project, I have been delving deeper into the chemistry, the science of olfaction as well as taste. During my weekend reading of Harold McGee’s Food & Cooking: an Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture, I came across a quote that explains the relationship between taste and olfaction in a very clear and simple manner. “The olfactory receptors in our nasal passages can detest many hundreds of volatile molecules that are small and chemically repelled by water, and therefore fly out of the food and into the air in our mouth. The sensations from our mouth give us an idea of a food’s basic composition and qualities, while our sense of smell allows us to make much finer discriminations” (270).

As a side note, I cannot recommend Food & Cooking: an Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture highly enough. I was given the book as a present by a fellow foodie to consult as one would an encyclopedia, that is, to read bits and pieces as the need would arise. Instead, I started reading this 800 page volume cover to cover, without losing my interest and all the while being amazed by McGee’s incredible knowledge. The book also provides enough fascinating information to those who are interested in fragrance. Can you guess what Serge Lutens’s Bois de Violette and Pinor Noir have in common?  Read on for an answer…

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