Sunday, August 21, 2011
BEESWAX AND HONEY
We’re finally having a few days of summer, and the bees are buzzing all around the flowers in my yard, wallowing in the warm pollen and bingeing on nectar. They’re mostly bumblebees of various sorts, not honeybees. The disappearance of honeybees is a story to save for another day - but it’s definitely a concern, considering that beeswax and honey are fairly common in perfume and cosmetics.
The bees were not the only inspiration for this post. The other day I was sampling a fragrance that was described by its manufacturer as containing “wild French honey bee extract”. Really? Did someone grind up a ton of poor little bees and make them into an “extract”? Not only that, did someone tramp around through the forests of France looking for wild bee colonies to use? I’ll give this copywriter the benefit of the doubt and assume that he or she actually meant beeswax or honey absolute or extract, not bees. I’ll also assume that the bees that manufactured the materials from which the extract was made lived in comfortable and readily accessible man-made hives, not a hollow tree somewhere on top of a remote mountain in the Massif Central. I’m going to do an entire review piece on this perfume manufacturer sometime, but for now they shall remain anonymous since what I intended to write about is bee products in perfumery.
Recently I was mixing up a new batch of Kyphi concentrate, enjoying the beeswax absolute that I use in it. I don’t know if it’s my imagination or not, but it seems like my newest batch of this absolute smells even better than the old one. I’m sure that, like honey, it depends on what flowers the bees were harvesting to make their products - assuming you buy your honey from the farmers’ market. In the supermarket, it probably depends on what artificial flavoring the manufacturers put in the high-fructose corn syrup that's the basis for their cheap “honey”.
Anyway, the beeswax absolute that I use has a wonderfully rich and sweet honey-like scent, but it’s more concentrated than honey, more floral, more resinous, and almost boozy, like a sweet liqueur. Drambuie is the one that comes to mind. It could be a stand-alone perfume. I really enjoy using it. I just wish it wasn’t so expensive, but when I think about how much labor thousands of bees must have put into it, I really don’t mind.
There are plenty of ways to produce a honey scent without any bees being involved. A whole array of aroma chemicals, many of which have phenylethyl or phenylacetate in the name, can produce the straightforward “honey” scent that’s used in soaps, candles, and probably fake honey itself. The sweet alyssum accord that I made was pretty much a basic honey and pollen scent with slight variations to give it a more floral feel. There’s a Givaudan product called “Miel Blanc” that most likely contains many of the same components. It is probably what is used in many commercial fragrances that contain a honey note. It doesn’t seem to be available any longer, at least not from the suppliers I deal with, so I guess it’s a moot point.
Anyway, here’s to the honeybees! Treat them nicely since they not only make some of your food, they make some of the materials in your perfume. Plant bee-friendly flowers wherever you can, select a variety that bloom from early spring through late autumn, and avoid spraying insecticides and herbicides if you can bring yourself to live with things in a somewhat natural state. Unfortunately, I have a grass lawn on my property, thanks to the suburban contractor who built the place. I’d eventually like to get rid of all the lawn grass. For now, though, I just let the dandelions and clover grow, and the bees come in droves to enjoy it. Even bumblebees make honey of sorts.