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Gettin' Sticky with For the Scent of It

by Michael Schrammel 27 Oct 2023
Gettin' Sticky with For the Scent of It

Sticky notes. No. Not the sticky notes you jot your thoughts down on. I’m talking about the sticky sweet notes in perfumery. Those that smell so deliciously sweet it feels like your finger may just stick to the atomizer.

21 Candles, For the Scent of It

Within perfumery, there are a number of these so-called “sticky notes”. What immediately comes to my mind is honey, caramel, and cotton candy. They all have their own identities in a fragrance, but they all share one common thread: a sweetness that sticks to your skin like glue. These notes can come from both natural and human-made sources. We’ll discuss just a handful of the many ways to create them. Let’s begin.

If we’re gonna be gettin’ sticky with it, we must first talk about ethyl maltol. This molecule, along with Maltol, are usually the sweet culprits in perfumery. Maltol itself smells more natural and of caramel, while ethyl maltol smells stronger, more fruity candy floss. Often, when you see cotton candy, caramel, or praline listed in the pyramid, the perfume will usually contain (ethyl)maltol. It really helps to create a lasting “glue of sweetness”.

The smell of cotton candy really wasn’t prominent in perfumery until the 90’s and 00’s, even though these molecules have been isolated or synthesized for years. Thanks to the popularity of Angel (1992, Thierry Mugler), more and more perfumes began to use ethyl maltol in amounts never before imagined. It truly changed the world of perfumery as we knew it. 

Back in 2021, I was asked by the daughter of my wife’s coworker to create a perfume that smelled of cotton candy. She didn’t want any noticeable florals; just edible, sticky sweetness. Ethyl maltol, come on down! I’ll show you my very first trial of the original formula. You can’t have a bag of cotton candy and NOT share it. You’ll see it is a simple formula, but I can happily say, she loved it. I’m smelling it now. It is a nostalgic, realistic bag of pink and blue raspberry cotton candy from childhood. 

 2021 Cotton Candy Perfume Formula, For the Scent of It

Did someone say caramel?! I personally love the smell of a good caramel in perfumery. This is one of those notes that can truly transform a perfume. For one, caramel has this way of “sticking” around and molding the other notes in a sweet glaze. It can have a lot of impact throughout the life of a fragrance. Also, caramel doesn’t have to be just a sweet slap from the Maltols. It can smell burnt, have notes of liqueur, a creaminess or it can smell like the sugar was melted with a piece of oak in the pan. In a perfume, caramel can be something as simple as the combo of Maltol/Ethyl Maltol with Vanilla. If you want to add some depth to that simple vanilla sugar, coumarin/tonka bean and a little shade from balsams like Peru and Benzoin can do wonders. Obviously, some milky lactone materials can add even more realism. It is sugar and dairy that create caramel, after all. There are ingredients like Methyl 5 Furfural, which smells of butterscotch caramel sitting at the bottom of a glass of amaretto. There is the powerful Caramel Furanone that smells like 1,000 maple donuts covered in a caramel ribbon. A wonderful all-natural caramel note can be created using natural isolates of vanillin and maltol together with Butter CO2, which lends itself to a freshly made, silky caramel. In 21 Candles, the new fragrance here at For the Scent of It, I wanted to create a caramel note that was realistic, not too sweet and worked perfectly with the citrus cocktail infusion in the top. Like a baker working on a new caramel recipe, it took a few different modifications to get the caramel just right.

When I think sticky, immediately I think honey. One of the most notoriously sticky sweets, all thanks to that little buzzing honeybee. Most of us know the smell and taste so well, when we smell honey, we immediately recognize it. When I first tried to decipher this nectar’s aroma in my early studies of it, it was not easy. It truly is one of the most complex smelling aromas out there. It’s not just sweet with sugary caramel, balsamic and nutty green nuances, but it also smells a little animalic and floral. You can almost smell the pollen. A few of the materials you can use to create a honey note are also found in flowers, such as Phenyl Ethyl Alcohol, Methyl Phenyl Acetate and Phenyl Ethyl Phenylacetate. I know. That was a lot of “Phenyls”. These three have a floral, rose and honey aroma; the acetates smelling most reminiscent of honey. Benzaldehyde, the molecule that makes the smell of almond, also helps enhance the sweet nuttiness found in honey. There are also honey bases available that replicate honey in its entirety, such as Honey Provence FirAbs (Firmenich), which is powerfully realistic and extremely well done. Let’s not forget about Beeswax Absolute. Beeswax absolute doesn’t smell as sweet as many would assume. It smells more balsamic and woodier. I like to say beeswax absolute smells like a honey-soaked, aged cognac barrel. It smells of Nature’s grit and time. I want to touch on something I always thought was interesting. You’ll notice that the “Phenyl” molecules I mentioned are found in nature and contain a hexagonal shape in their chemistry. What else found in nature has that same stable shape? Honeycomb.

 Honeycomb via Unsplash with Honey Molecules via Pubchem

So, as you can see, getting sticky can be pretty darn sweet. It can be done in a variety of ways. We know many people have grown a little tired of the so-called “Ethyl Maltol Bombs” in the fragrance world. Still, we all get a little sweet tooth and when it comes to longevity on skin, sweetness does stick around. This is why perfumers have found new and exciting ways to utilize the long-lasting ethyl maltol. One perfumer employed about 4x the amount of ethyl maltol that’s found in Angel (Thierry Mugler). By combining it with Ambrox® and moss crystals, he wound up creating one of the most popular perfume accords of our day. You know it as Baccarat Rouge 540 (2014, Maison Francis Kurkdjian).

Michael Schrammel, Perfumer of For the Scent of It

(Originally posted on Cafleurebon Perfume Blog where For the Scent of It is the contributor to the Notes from the Lab Series)

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