What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

MATERIALS WEDNESDAY: TOMATO LEAF ABSOLUTE

In considering raw materials, I have no plan for how I go about choosing topics. So far I’ve written about newer materials that I’m in the process of evaluating, so here’s another one in the same category. The last one was palo santo, and this one is also a green note, so I guess I could start with a series of “green” materials.

Anyone who has encountered a real live tomato plant probably knows what tomato leaves smell like. It’s a unique scent that epitomizes summer. Apparently it’s a love-it-or-hate-it scent, but for those of us who love it, wouldn’t it be nice to capture it as a perfume note? That was my hope when I got a batch of Robertet’s tomato leaf absolute, but it was only partially realized. The absolute is a viscous yellow-green liquid that smells more like generic green leaves than tomato. It’s not too sticky, so is relatively easy to work with. It's definitely green, somewhat grassy and leafy, with only a remote hint of tomato. In reality, it’s more like a milder version of violet leaf absolute than tomato.

I suppose it’s not surprising that the scent of fresh tomato leaves is hard to capture in a natural, extracted product. The scent actually comes from bulbous structures on the tips of the hair-like structures (trichomes) that cover the leaves and stems, and is secreted as an insect repellant. This secretion is what we smell when we gently rub a tomato leaf to release the fragrance.

When tomato leaves are harvested, I imagine there’s no way to separate the trichome secretion from the leaves and stems, so everything gets extracted together and the green, leafy components end up predominating. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you’re expecting a strong and authentic freshly-rubbed tomato leaf smell, you won’t get it.

What you do get is a very strong, dark green, pungent scent at first that gradually becomes lighter and more herbal, with a hint of something almost perfumey. It’s lovely and fresh, but not all that tomato-y. I don’t detect any “off”-notes that would need to be masked, so it’s versatile and could participate in any aspect of a fragrance. It’s not even bad as a solo act. Longevity is not great, two days on paper and a few hours on skin. It would function as a top- to early middle note in a blend.

I think tomato leaf absolute could be a good starting point for reconstructing a true-to-life tomato scent, but it would take a lot of tinkering to get it right. As is, it could be used in any composition that needs a light green note, but it would not be explicitly recognizable as "tomato leaf". 


[Tomato leaf trichome image from UC Davis website; other images from Wikimedia]

8 comments:

  1. Tomato leaf, like violet leaf, is for me a charming note in all the perfumes where I can detect it. I always have the same impression with, there is something to do with fairies.

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    1. It probably goes well with rhubarb!

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  2. Hi Ellen,
    When Meredith Smith was doing Sweet Anthem she had a fragrance called Joan that used tomato leaf. As you know I am very familiar with the scent of tomato leaves of all kinds in various seasons of the year. The Joan fragrance, while not tomato leaf per se, still wafted a rather nice suggestion of tomatoes and herb and flower gardens.
    Azar

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    1. Azar, I don't recall ever smelling Joan, but given your high level of expertise with tomato leaves, I'll take your word for Joan smelling like tomato leaf. The absolute is actually very nice and does suggest tomatoes and green, leafy gardens.

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  3. That is interesting, that you can't extract the smell of a tomato leaf without extracting everything else in the leaf! While that seems very obvious now, somehow I had never thought about that. I imagine that is an issue (or maybe just a fact of life) for chemical extractions of pretty much everything, and that perhaps explains why many perfumes that include absolutes of different flowers (especially rose) almost never smell like real live roses to me. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

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    1. Yuki, you are absolutely right!! Chemical extraction of any type is not going to yield a smell that's exactly like the real live plant, and roses are a good example. Some other flower absolutes are even less like the real thing. Ironically, supplementation of natural extracts with synthetics can come closer to duplicating the real scent than simply distilling or otherwise making extracts from flowers, plants, or other natural materials.

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  4. I'm not 100% sure, but I seem to remember there being a Tomato Leaf Givco. I thought it would be fun to play with, but knew I didn't need much at all, so I never got any.

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    1. Laurie, I think I have a sample of the tomato leaf Givco somewhere. My recollection is that it didn't smell much like real live tomato leaves, either.

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