Spicy perfumes – the spice notes

I credit my discovery and subsequent love of spicy foods to the year (1994) I lived in Singapore. Prior to that, I can’t recall having tried spicy food at all.

My love of spice has also transferred to the world of perfume. I find myself often reaching for a spice note. The spice notes can liven up a perfume and often lend themselves to warm and sensual fragrances usually associated with the oriental style perfumes. It has also been interesting to discover that certain florals can sometimes have a sharp, spicy element to them. For instance rose – some varieties have a subtle spicy, peppery note, when paired with a dash of pepper, that aspect of the flower can be nicely accentuated.

When using spice to ‘spice’ up a perfume, it is useful to know that they fall into sub-categories: dry spice, sweet spice and fresh spice.

Here’s a brief rundown on some of the key spices available to the natural perfumer:

Dry Spice

Juniper Berry – a heart note distilled from the berries, the aroma is dry, crisp, woody and warm with a subtle fruity note. Juniper berries are responsible for giving gin its well known distinctive flavour.

Black Pepper/Pink Pepper/Green Pepper – a top note, each type of peppercorn may have subtle differences however they are all essentially dry, fresh, warm, spicy and peppery!

Sweet Spice

Cardamom – one of my absolute favourites. It has a lovely refreshing, sweet spicy aroma. I find it provides a lovely lightness, lift and freshness to the top of perfumes.

Nutmeg – from the seed, reminds me of rice pudding. A fresh, warm and sweet top note.

Clove – not my personal favourite, makes me feel a little queasy! Nonetheless I don’t mind it in teensy amounts with florals, as it lends body and a sweet warm richness to the heart with a woody, balsamic undertone.

Cinnamon – essential oil can be distilled from each part of the tree, however, the bark has the classic aroma that most would be familiar with from food. Cinnamon adds a lovely sweetness and warmth and will quickly turn a fragrance into the gourmand variety, which is fine if that is what you are after! If not, a sparing approach is required.

Fresh Spice

Ginger – a mouthwatering middle note. Very rich, warm and spicy. I find the standard essential oil I have has a subtle floral component, whereas the fresh ginger version has much greater freshness and clarity.

Coriander – distilled from the seeds, coriander is very useful as a fresh, uplifting top note.

I obviously must love the spice notes – writing this has made me aware that I have used spice in 4 of my 5 natural perfumes I sell!

010 – cardamom and clove bud

020 – coriander and juniper berry

030 – coriander

040 – ginger, pink pepper and coriander

050 – no spice! Sweet marjoram instead for its refreshing, herbal character

Some of my saffron stash surrounded by other spices

Some of my saffron stash surrounded by other spices

There are obviously more spices available for the natural perfumer to use, I’ve just covered the ones that I am most familiar with and use at the moment. Please feel free to share your perfume experience of any spices not listed here : ) xx