August 11, 2022
In beauty reviews, you often hear about the “notes” of a fragrance. These are the ingredients – the composition of a personal scent that makes up the unique juice you know and love. But aside from the words on the box, or a beauty writer telling you about the notes, what do you know about your favourite ingredients? Here, we break down some of the more exotic fragrance ingredients to explain just what they are, where they come from, and why they’re used in your favourite scent.
Oudh/Oud: With a reputation as one of the most expensive raw fragrance ingredients in the world, it’s no surprise that oud smells so rich. Coming from the agar tree (which is why it’s often listed as agarwood), its beauty actually comes specifically from the resinous heartwood, which is infected by fungus. Part of its rarity is that not all trees will have a fungus-infected heartwood so the resinous gold is a bit of a jackpot. Agar trees are mainly found in southeast Asia, India and Bangladesh, and the older the tree, the more rich the aroma. If you haven’t smelled Oud, it’s a hard scent to describe. Warm, rich and slightly woody it smells like you imagine the Royal hallways of an Empire would smell: opulent.
Tonka Bean: If your experience with the word Tonka is limited to toy trucks, let us introduce you to an olfactory sensation. The scent is distinctive: like a milky, rich vanilla but with more depth and hints of spices like cinnamon, clove and even undertones tobacco. The ingredient comes from the Coumarou tree which is a tropical tree native to South and Central America, and more specifically, the seeds, and the chemical compound called Coumarin that comes from these seeds. Fun fact: Coumarin also occurs in other plants like cinnamon, vanilla, sour cherries and even strawberries. You’ll often find Tonka Bean in florals and fruity scents, and it pairs well with vanilla to enhance the vanilla scent.
Amber: It’s common to see Amber listed as a base note in oriental scents, but actually it’s not a singular ingredient, but rather a group of ingredients – and none of them actually come from true amber (the tree resin that people often wear in jewellery). Crazy, right? The first thing you need to know is that “Amber” is not the same as Ambergris (which comes from the, uh, excretion of whales). What the accord is made up of is abdanum, benzoin and vanilla – all synthetic – but nonetheless, it’s what the smell (and now, category) of Amber now represents. With a smell that can only be described as “warm”, it has a raw sexiness with a hint of sweet/powdery that makes it ideal for a base note where you need to add depth.