Trigeminal’s Perfumery Potential

Long used in dining and confectionery, the stimulants are finding their way into fine fragrance.
Long used in dining and confectionery, the stimulants are finding their way into fine fragrance.

When thinking about the application of trigeminal stimulants in fine fragrance, it should be remembered that many of the compounds that elicit trigeminal response are intrinsic to raw materials that have excited the human olfactory palette for millennia—so, it’s not exactly a new strategy. Take the chili pepper, for example, used for millennia both for flavor and its capsaicin-activated burning sensation, adding gastronomic excitement and another layer of sensory meaning. That being said, the targeted cultivation, tailoring and experimentation with non-traditional trigeminal stimulants in non-traditional ratios, in non-traditional fragrance categories, is indeed an area ripe for innovation—intimately connected to today’s cultural mechanisms dictating “surprise and delight” as cipher for emotional reward, multisensoriality as hyper-fulfilling and the rise of the “lower” senses (taste and smell) within the experience economy.

The trigeminal headspace has dominated blue-sky thinking in the candy and intellectual dining scenes for years, but is still fairly untapped in scent-making. This month’s interview discusses its potential with Nicholas O’Leary, vice president, fragrance design innovation at Firmenich.

Eddie Bulliqi [EB]: When did you first become aware of perfume developers exploring trigeminal activation for heightened consumer response?

Nicholas O’Leary [NOL]: First, it’s important to recognize that many of the ingredients that we use in the fragrance and flavor industry are thought to stimulate the trigeminal nerve when present at sufficient concentrations. In general, the sensitivity of the trigeminal nerve to these compounds is many times less than the sensitivity of the olfactory receptors, so we have traditionally not considered the trigeminal component of their perception as being very important. I’ve been aware of the concept of using trigeminal stimulants in fragranced consumer products for more than 20 years, but the first experiments were quite basic. In the mid-2000s we gained a better understanding of interrelation between the olfactory and trigeminal pathways and this provided us with the insights to develop a more sophisticated approach. 

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