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]