maandag 18 september 2017

The wealth of scents

The other day, I bought a bottle of eau de toilette for my wife. While this was neatly wrapped, it struck me that there are retail chains that are fully based on fragrance. That there is a fragrance and flavor industry. And that at Brightlands Chemelot Campus there is a company that is successful in it.

 Isobionics laboratory
Photo Dols Fotografie

Unstructured wealth
The rainbow provides nature’s insight in colors. For wind speed we have the Beaufort scale. For the elements in our universe we can consult Mendeleev’s periodic table. But odors are apparently so complicated that there is no adequate overview available. I found a “wheel of smell” (see below), but I think this doesn’t justify the wealth of smells in our environment.

 Wheel of smell

The pleasure of smells
Scents hang around things and people, in parks and forests, in buildings, sometimes deliberately placed in stores as a marketing tool.
Scents give a nice feeling.

According to the "wheel" you will find scents in perfumes, eau des toilettes and after shaves. There are also scents in detergents and in all kinds of drugstore items and beverages. This usually involves odors of plant origin, especially flowers. In my garden is a lavender, type "Parfum de Nature".
By and large, the composition of perfumes is known, with the experts distinguishing between top notes, middle notes, and base notes. We can perceive ingredients like mandarin, lemon, blackberries, melon, bread, rose, hay, honeysuckle, camphor, basil, hay, cinnamon, coffee, laurel, chocolate, caramel, pine, bamboo, all kinds of resins, and additionally animal scents.

Perfume manufacturers add their poetic descriptions, such as: "A stimulating blend of woody nuts, enveloped in a suede agreement". Or: "An ode to the gardenia, from the tender first blossoms to the addictive rich scent at full bloom". Tempting bottles and premium pricing complete the offer.

Almost all foods have a smell. The appraisal of its scent is part of wine and whisky tastings: "This whisky has the smell of an old saddle in an English horse stable."
Smell and taste are related. Odors refine our taste experience.

Scents hang around areas: the onion fields in the Dutch polders, the lavender fields in the French Provence, the cloves of Zanzibar, a cedar fire in Canada. And whole populations carry a particular smell.

Scents penetrate through an open nerve directly into your brain. No wonder that odors can trigger certain memories. Without the stuff at hand, I will immediately recognize the smell of weapon oil, which brings me back to my time in military service.
And the smell of baby oil brings me back to the time our children wore diapers – in the context of which I won’t elaborate on other smells.

A penetrating scent
Unlike colors, there are also unpleasant odors – and this is where the ‘wheel of smell’ fails. The smell of cooked sprouts is proverbial for small-mindedness. A penetrating scent is rarely pleasant. Connotations with unpleasant odors we find in proverbs, like the Dutch saying: "Gentle healers cause stinking wounds".

And there are other associations. For instance, how would a 18th-century sailing vessel, loaded with spices, have smelled? The smell of colonialism and exploitation – or as the ancient Romans said: "Pecunia non olet", money doesn’t stink.
And what was the smell on Napoleon’s 19th century battlefields? The reek of death and destruction.
And: how did the atmo-terrorist attacks with mustard gas during World War I smell? And what smell preceded the fatal effect of Xyklon B in the Nazi gas chambers during World War II?

In the Bible, scents have a sacred meaning. The ancient tribes of Israel had rules for offerings, which required them to burn animals, like oxen (Exodus 29). Furthermore, they had an Altar of Incense from which the smell of fragrant incense rose: a pleasant smell to the Lord (Exodus 30).
However, sacred? The interest in barbecuing shows that mortals share the appreciation of such odors.

And in literature we find the scent of fragrance. In the novel "The Perfume", the German author Patrick Süskind tells about a person with a superhuman sense of smell and its destructive effects, as announced in the subtitle "The History of a Murderer".

Isoprene, building block for many natural fragrances

The scented nature
According to recent Dutch research (NIOO-KNAW), microorganisms in the soil communicate with the help of volatile substances, so-called terpenes, a type of pheromone. Because there are so many microorganisms in the soil, 'Terpian' is the most spoken language in the world.
Chemically, the molecule isoprene forms the basis of terpenes. And with this we come to another variant: the isoprenoids. This includes many fragrances. And as stated: in fragrance there is trade.


Valenceen en nootkatone
And Isobionics, located at Brightlands Chemelot Campus, knows all about that. The company produces, aided by microorganisms (I don’t know if they master ‘Terpian’), a number of natural fragrances, isoprenoids: valencene (orange), nootkatone (grapefruit), beta elemene (ginger), beta bisabolene (lemon), sandalwood, and patchouli. These products find their way to the fragrance and flavor industry, for example for soft drinks.
Isobionics is well positioned in this industry.

The products of Isobionics are highly concentrated, so only very small quantities are needed to give flavor to finished products. At the same time, the production of valencene by Isobionics saves loads of oranges that would normally have been used for the production.

The other day, I bought a bottle of eau de toilette for my wife. I hope she likes it.

More information about the composition of perfumes:
More information about terpenes: 
More information about Isobionics:
This is a repost of my (Dutch) May 1, 2017 post.
Read my May 20, 2013 blog post about the reason why of my English reposts.

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