Sweet Smell of Chemistry

imageOh the sweet smell of the summer holidays and as I’m heading to the south of France I feel it only right to mention the town of Grasse (I really am determined to visit it this year) . Grasse is the birthplace of the perfume industry and is known as the world’s perfume capital. There are still a few perfume houses present in Grasse including Molinard and Fragonard – just to give you an idea of the size of the perfume industry the total sales volume in 2010 was $22 billon.   So where does chemistry fit in to the perfume industry I hear you ask ?
We only have to start with ester chemistry ( most chemistry students meet esters GCSE/AS), just look at the back of shower gels, shampoo …. and look for the chemical ending in -oate – that’s an ester right there. Esters are volatile chemicals that have pleasant smells, for example pentyl ethanoate smells of pears and methyl butanoate smells of pineapples. Now a lot of the expensive perfumes contain chemicals found naturally ( pound shop perfume will probably have chemicals made in the lab) and there is one very interesting chemical that is only found in the most expensive musk based perfumes – Ambergris. Now where do you happen to find this chemical, not in some sweet smelling flower but in whale puke ! Before you laugh apparently a dog walker found a 6lb lump on morecambe beach believed to be worth up to £100,000. Chemically ambergris contains a mixture of chemicals including alkaloids, acids and the chemical ambrein similar to cholesterol. I’ve put a link in if you wish to find out a bit more, I’ve only just touched the surface of perfume chemistry so definitely one for another post !




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