In the first of a continuing series of guest columns, Pierre-Jean Hellivan will share his knowledge and passion for naturals, exploring key materials from source to refinement to formulation. Future editions will reach across the globe, including India, Morocco, China, the Mediterranean basin, and France. –Ed.
While consumers and flavor and fragrance professionals know and use many of nature’s ingredients, very few truly grasp the magical stories that hide behind naturals—from a bottle of vanilla extract, to a drum of ylang-ylang oil. For too many of our industry colleagues, naturals are little more than a code number, a price or a bad crop report. Yet, it all starts with a farmer putting a seed in the ground and passionate teams dedicated to bringing nature’s bounty to the world. Their stories are indeed nothing short of magical, the scents they deliver striking the very core of our emotions.
Through years of experience selling botanical ingredients, I have witnessed countless perfumers, flavorists, chefs and buyers craving to further connect with the “Gardens of Eden” where the botanicals we formulate with and consume every day are grown. Quenching their thirst with stories of nature and its craftsmen hardly ever fails to trigger this unmistakable spark in their eyes: the satisfaction of novel knowledge, the thrill of discovery and adventure, the inspiration of unleashed creativity. Is it not time to make it real? Is it not time to bring nature back in naturals?
Ylang-ylang (Cananga odorata) is one of the great classics. Yet, a victim of collapsing quality, its future in our industry is endangered. This pale yellow essential oil, with an intensely sensual-sweet, soft floral, balsamic and slightly spicy scent, is a deep and rich material—a fragrance in itself. Ylang-ylang is a star ingredient of perfumers’ natural palettes, immortalized in such timeless fragrances as Chanel No. 5 and Guerlain’s Samsara. A recent trend for white flower scents has drawn perfumers to reinterpret tuberose, neroli and jasmine, thereby shedding new light on ylang-ylang’s uncanny ability to reveal the true beauty of floral notes.
Charabot perfumer Dorothee Piot bears witness to perfumers’ fascination for ylang-ylang: “I cherish its spicy, sunny edge, its exhilarating charm. Ylang-ylang makes me travel. I use it to impart volume, wealth, subtleness, texture, character and mystery. It is a rich raw material that is lively; it perfectly complements floral notes. I love to marry it with woody notes, or formulate it to tame aldehydes.” But, she adds, quality is essential to ylang-ylang’s effectiveness.