The complexity of flavor shows our fascination for rotten things. Scents of decay, flavors of decomposed plants and flesh are essential to us as much as we reject them in overdose.
The example of Tokaji and other "foods" produced through a similar process, with a history as long as the perfumes, can teach us two things: a) a method to produce new scents b) a concept of complexity and unusual high impact molecules.
a) the future of perfumes is called microbiology. Bacteria, fungus, enzymes and all those terrifying small things that would frighten any consumer fed with so many cultural stereotypes are the future of this industry. Some projects, ideas, researches are not for the common ear because of misinterpretation risks. Bacteria are small chemical factories and they loooove to work. When a vast research has started in the 20's and 30's in USA for the production of first vaccines, several unexpected things were noted. Some bacteria produced very pleasant smells (rose, violet, musk, sweet, etc) contrary to the "scent of decay" associated with this "underworld". In those years scientists were interested by remedies and not by fragrances and they could not analyze what they have obtained. Enzymatic reactions occur everywhere around us at room temperature and they are responsible for many things we love, like the flavor of several fruits. They are also present in the production of some essential oils where slightly fermented leaves or petals will release the desired molecules (patchouli, rose, but also vanilla and now orris). Biotechnologies are quite recent in this field, but they can improve many things. They open the world of "green chemistry", faster production, less polluting and less expensive, but most important, they open the gate to a very new type of scents, associations and complexity. Biotechnology will influence the next decades of the perfume industry from the ingredients and their manufacture to the perfume creation, perfume production with new technologies providing richness to the scent and in the end outstanding applications for the human body and everything were where the scent will be released. Despite the new molecules, the fragrance research today is far from the its impact several decades ago when suddenly the perfumers had on their tables the "essence" of amber, orris, jasmine, rose, when the family of ambrox and damascones where shaping the future. While captives (single molecules) can be produced and sold in other parts of the world, where labs do not invest in research but manufacture "generic" molecules, the microbiology offers a very different approach. Stealing a technology producing new plants, extractions, scents, associations, is far more complicate than the synthesis of a molecule revealed by the chemical literature. A rich perfume "bioengineered" is more complicate to copy with all the details. Its complex composition is not the result of blending thousands of molecules but the result of a process. You do not "copy" a cognac with GC. We should remember that many things we cherish were discovered centuries ago by … accident and were the work of bacteria and fungus. They were remembered through legends (like the Roquefort cheese).
b) High impact molecules are known by the flavorist after long studies on everything we eat. These moleculs have been studied, analyzed, classified, but the main problem is that you cannot use them like single molecules in a perfume. They are too strong, even when they are very highly diluted, and for this reason creating pleasant accords is not an easy task. Few of them are found in several well known specialties from Firmenich and Givaudan where they usually contribute to the scent of the natural material where they were discovered (fruits). But for Tokaji and Sauvignon I'm speaking of something different: exploring the nature of these "S-molecules" in their "natural" context of accords and with the cultural habits associated with these products. Foods and wine or the traditional dishes from all around the world are richer in meaning for the perfumer than for the flavorist. The perfumer has more creative freedom to associate things that have never been put together before. This molecular beauty is usually found in traces but this needs a new approach and study. The classic perfumer would associate davana, a butyrate, some lactones and vanilla to suggest the lure of the divine Tokaji nectar. The visionary perfumer would go deeper into the secrets of the wine, far beyond the simple mental association with dried fruits and would discover that a fruit and a bark from South America share an unexpected similarity (several high impact molecules) like a poetic bridge between an Argentinean tango and the Hungarian czardas. A famous French wine, the natural castoreum and a red fruit share the same accord with 3 characteristic molecules and without a little chemistry it would be hard to guess they have the same heart or essence. Associations, far more enduring than an ephemeral fragrance trend, are based on archetypes, related both to the truth found inside a molecule and related to the way we perceive. The beauty of this concept is that a perfumer is free from exposing and proving any scientific theory and now he has everything around to explore, analyze, propose, relate things and above all to relate sensations that have never been exposed in pure light. Many experienced perfumers know things far better than any specialists, but they would not dare to say "we love chocolate plus X because" or "when a certain type of woman uses this molecule plus that she will have an unusual effect on the audience". What a perfumer knows after years of experiences are things that others are nor prepared to listen or to accept. Cultural stereotypes and the obsession with rational thinking will not allow the perfumers to publicly speak other than in metaphors. What else is a great perfume that lasts many years, than the perfect expression of a "truth" like the culture behind traditional cuisine where intuition worked hundreds of years to find perfection? The secret is not the molecule itself but its network but the great obstacle is the obvious first scent. Tokaji + Roquefort + nuts might rest a culinary extravagance unless you see what they hide and this "heart accord" is both a perfume and a new flavor. The same founding principle is behind the strawberry chocolate.
The perfume is the most intimate tale of our history and evolution on earth, how we discovered and conquered the world, transforming death and decay into immortality and beauty.
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Fragrance is the 8th Art - Octavian Coifan - Le Parfum est le 8ème Art