Tag Archives: perfume

Book: The Secret of Scent

The Secret of Scent

Mesmerising, thrilling quest for what causes scent.
Brimming with chemical structures.
200 pages, ★★★★★

Wow. The Secret of Scent looks like a bottle of Chanel No. 5. It even says 1 fl oz!

The book’s subtitle, adventures in perfume and the science of smell is totally accurate (after some rearrangement). If we were to split this book vertically, like an avocado, the first 100 pages would describe the smell of perfume, while the latter 100 pages could be titled adventures in science.

The smell of perfume half tells us the main categories of smell and how altering compounds alters their smell. This half of the book is full of chemical structures and IUPAC nomenclature. This half of The Secret of Scentinspired another perfume-related graphic, which I’m making as we speak. 🙂

The adventures in science part is an exciting journey towards the discovery of the secret of scent (which hasn’t quite yet been discovered, but scientists are getting very close). Two main theories prevail in the science of smell: that odorous compounds are recognised by either (a) their vibrational frequencies; or (b) their chemical shape. This book provides more evidence for the former (vibrational frequencies), implying that it might be possible to predict the smell of a molecule from its infra-red spectrograph! Unfortunately, this theory doesn’t explain chirality, and how humans can perceive chiral enantiomers sometimes of different smells (e.g. orange and lemon) seems to violate this first theory. Or, merging the two theories together, it would seem that our olfactory glands are doing some kind of chiral spectroscopy on the molecules we breathe!

Fascinating book. I love Chemistry and I love perfume so this was a perfect book form me. Also consider A Natural History of the Senses by Diana Ackerman★★★★★

Infographic: Table of Esters and their Smells

Table of Esters and Their Smells

Click to download (1.1Mb JPEG)

I love esters. This infographic is totally self-explanatory to any chemist. (Or email me if you have any questions.) Enjoy! 😉

  • Esters are made by reacting alcohols and carboxylic acids together in a condensation reaction.
  • Different combinations of alcohols and carboxylic acids give rise to different esters, and each ester has a unique aroma.
  • These esters are found naturally in fruits and vegetables and are also used in perfumes.
  • You can now look up an ester in the table above and find its aroma by referring to the picture.
  • Ambiguous or “mixed” smells are indicated by the presence of multiple images in each box.
  • Benzyl salicylate is amazing: some people can perceive it while others can’t. However, people who can’t perceive benzyl salicylate can tell that it alters the overall aroma of perfume to which it’s been added! Magic!
  • You can make any of these relatively safely in the kitchen or at school.
  • All of these esters are edible in minuscule (microgram) amounts and are found naturally in all fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices.
  • That said, though,
      never eat anything you make in the lab!