Training the Nose with Herbs and Spices

spice_turkey_black_pepper_cumin_cinnamon_sweeteners_sunday-879157.jpg!dThe sense of smell provides an amazing way to take in an environment. It helps to set the scene, it creates memories, and it even provides a sense of identity through scents that we wear on our bodies. Aromatherapy can help heal, and being able to smell things like gas or rotting food can help protect us. All of that being said, it pays to be in tune with your own sense of smell, whether for the sake noticing more scents around you, for increasing your ability to taste, or for developing your perfumer’s nose.

One great tool for fine-tuning your sense of smell is probably sitting right under your nose, metaphorically speaking, for now. Literally speaking, it’s probably in the kitchen, and more specifically in your spice cabinet. This shelf is filled with flavors both for the mouth and nose to enjoy, an affordable and readily available organ of olfactory experiences. Just as a perfumer inhales the oils from their organ before adding one to a concoction, so does the chef inhale the scents of their spices to get a feel for what will enhance their recipe.

In fact, many of these same plants, herbs, and spices are regularly used in perfumes at Possets and elsewhere. Take, for instance, black pepper. It adds a little kick to a dish, and does the same for a perfume recipe. A perfumer’s organ might also contain scents like turmeric, ginger, oregano, cinnamon, vanilla, cumin, rosemary, or coriander. All of these scents can be appreciated equally for their contribution to lovely perfumes as well as for their role in delicious meals.

Now that you’re standing in front of this lively library of scents, it’s time to start sniffing. Start with something really familiar to you. That might be oregano, vanilla, or black pepper (but keep your distance so as not to sneeze!). Take a sniff and enjoy the familiar smell. Then, take a second deep inhalation and do your best to notice the smell as if you’d never smelled it before. Try to pick out some adjectives that describe what your nose is experiencing. Is it earthy? Sweet? Citrusy? Warm? Write down a few descriptors so that you can return to your notes later upon a second and third sniff.

If you’re ready for more, a trip to a local market can lead you to a wider range of fresh herbs. Herbs are an excellent tool for training the nose, particularly when starting out, because they’ll cost you much less than essential oils but can still give you a wide range of smells to experience and study. It’s also fun to look up recipes that use these herbs, and compare the way the herbs taste with how they smell.

If you want to follow a three-level practice for developing your nose, you can take a look at this one from BoisDeJasmin.com. Here the author shares some advice from her professional training on how to gradually teach your nose to pick up more scents, starting with casual daily sniffing and ending with intentional morning meditations on scents.

The more often you return to your cabinet or pantry to smell herbs, spices, teas, and oils, the more notes your nose will learn to pickup. Once you’re in the habit of smelling, you might find that you’re sniffing everything around you anywhere you go, changing and even enhancing the way you take in experiences.

by Katrina Eresman

The Scent of Rebellion, Part 2

musk-1In my last post, I gave some background on one of the perfumer’s classic tools: musk. This base note can add a mysterious depth and a strong staying power to a scent. But because this is a scent that’s strictly synthetic these days (actual musk comes from the musk gland of the endangered musk deer) the subject of musk can be a little confusing. Plenty of fragrance manufacturers are making numerous variations on musk these days, so that it’s hard to even know what “musk” really is any more.

Since honest-to-god musk comes from a gland used for secretions meant to attract mates, it’s easy to imagine what that strong, animalic scent might smell like. Perhaps the closest thing we have in the Possets atelier is our bottle of Beaver castoreum(which is not used in any of our blends. It is used for reference). This ingredient comes from the beaver castor sacs, which are located on both male and female beavers at the base of the tail near the anus. The castor sacs let off a secretion—castoreum—that is used to mark a territory. Personally, I don’t find the smell to be unbearable, necessarily—just intense. It’s reminiscent of a petting zoo which, after a little adjusting, can sort of be pleasant on its own.

When it comes to musks, the Possets atelier houses a well-rounded collection. Here’s a little on some of the synthetic musks in our library and a few Possets-specific recommendations to go with them.

White Musk

White musk is the clean linen of musks. It’s light, pure, and very easy on the nose. Its sweet note calls to mind old potpourri, combing the sort of dusty smell associated with the adjective “musky” with that of a sour white grape.

Possets Perfume Recommendations: Pleiades

Green Musk

This musk is slightly sweet, but very green, as though the white musk spent a year living in the forest. It’s a leafy sort of scent, like what you might expect from smelling the dry ground in the woods. Imagine the smell of moss, earthy but fresh and spring-like.

Red Musk

Red musk isn’t trying to impress anyone. It’s not going to put on makeup or change its clothes for an evening out. It’s bold, confident, aged, and wise just as it is. Red musk is sharp yet ethereal. It’s the smell of an old man’s study, where cigars and incense have burned, and books have been opened and closed. It’s stale and pungent, like old wood.

Possets Perfume Recommendation: Eve

Black Musk

This is a strong base that makes an intense statement when it stands alone. Black musk is heavy and sour, almost like food that’s gone slightly past its expiration date. This bold musk adds a distinguished base to its perfumes.

Possets Perfume Recommendations: Black Tea

Vanilla Musk

This one is just what you would think—the sweet dust of white musk with a strong vanilla taffy overtone.

Possets Perfume Recommendation: Dance With Me

Nubian Musk

Nubian musk is like vanilla musk with a little more mystique and edge. It’s a sexy, sweet, feminine musk scent that calls to mind a dusty street-side market with music and dancing, the beautiful celebration of life through dance and seduction.

Possets Perfume Recommendation: Sweet Arabia

Musk al Saher

This ingredient feels like a perfume on its own. For some reason it reminds me of a scent that would be worn by a school teacher, the sweet smell of a biology teacher’s perfume that contrasts with the smell of formaldehyde.

Musk Supreme

Take the one singular element that all of these musks have in common and this would be it. Musk supreme is a classic, middle-ground musk scent.

Possets Perfume Recommendation: She Walks in Beauty

Civet

The last scent on the list is, like the beaver castoreum, an ingredient that’s much closer in nature to true, animal-sourced musk. Civet is a secretion from the civet cat that, again, is used to mark territory. Believe me—you’ll be able to distinguish the civet’s territory from the beaver’s because these two animalic scents are very different. While castoreum is a round, sort of familiar smell, civet is sharp, aggressive, and altogether unpleasant to this author’s nose. Still, like magic, civet blends together with other ingredients to create some of the most spectacular perfumes.

Possets Perfume Recommendations: Over the Rhine, Eve, Howl

By Katrina Eresman