What the heck is fenugreek? (And why is it in my perfume!?)

March 19, 2013

Fenugreek. Fe-nu-grik. Sounds weird. Smells interesting. Really good in a curry.

The fenugreek plant


So what the heck is it doing in perfume?

When I ordered my first sample of fenugreek extract, I was intrigued by its description, and was hoping to find something that smelt like burnt sugar or syrup. What I discovered upon opening the bottle of fenugreek C02 was the most intriguing aroma of curry, fresh mown hay, sweat, spices, sugar and fresh dirt. All at once I could smell soup and candy, milk and meat, and it was so interesting. Difficult to know what to do with at the time, I put my bottle of fenugreek away, knowing I’d find the perfect opportunity to experiment with it in the future.

fenugreek seeds

The first time I used it was for a fragrance that I was creating for my husband, which then went on to become our Slow Fire fragrance.

One Seed Slow Fire fragrance

One Seed Slow Fire fragrance

We used fenugreek in this fragrance to impart an earthiness and maple-like sweetness to enhance the aroma of being soaked in the warmth and sweet woodiness of an open fire.

Good Scents describes the odor of fenugreek as having:

“celery like spicyness, a coumarinic balsamic sweetness and an intense, almost sickening and strong, lovage like or opopanax like note of extreme tenacity. ”

It warns perfumers that the diffusive power of the odour of fenugreek is often highly overestimated, and that traces can either ruin a perfume or have a beautiful, unique effect in certain compositions.

As a perfumer, there is often a fine line with extract like fenugreek, where trace amounts can create an amazing effect, but only one drop more can completely ruin a blend, and make it smell like Indian takeaway, or, in the case of cepes, for example, like a Vegemite sandwhich!

Eau de Yeast Extract, anyone?

Eau de Yeast Extract, anyone?

Some interesting facts about fenugreek:

  • In February 2009, the International Frutarom Corporation factory in North Bergen, New Jersey, was found to be the source of a mysterious maple syrup aroma, which had been reported as occasionally drifting over New York City since 2005. The odor was found to be from soloton, an ester in fenugreek seeds
  • Fenugreek is often used to mimic the aroma and taste of maple syrup in maple syrup substitutes
  • Fenugreek seeds, leaves and sprouts are used for culinary purposes, most commonly in Indian cuisines
  • Breastfeeding mothers can take fenugreek to increase their milk production.
  • An interesting side-effect of consuming large amounts of fenugreek that is that it produces a faint odour of maple syrup on the skin and in the sweat and urine

Not surprisingly, there are not many natural perfumes available which make use of the most interesting extract. But for me, it is fascinating, and there is really nothing else like it in my perfume palette.

So here’s hoping you learned something new today.

So are you intrigued? I hope so!



natural perfumes

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