Let’s talk about peaches!
This scent study took a while to put together because there’s just so much to know about this tasty fruit.
Peaches have a long and fascinating history—in fact, they’re one of the earliest fruits cultivated by humans, if not the earliest. Fossilized peach pits found in China indicate that peaches may have been domesticated by 6000 BCE. In other words, humans likely started cultivating peaches in the late stone age!
Peaches are also a cultural icon. From ancient symbols of vitality to modern artistic muses, these tasty fruits appear in literature, folk tales, paintings, and other art in countries all over the world. Although peaches are native to China, they have a long and colorful history on nearly every continent.
This week I’ll be focusing more on the scent of peaches than their history and cultural status, but I do want to leave you with some ✨parting peach facts✨ before diving in.
👯 Peaches and nectarines are actually the same fruit! The difference is that peaches have a fuzzy skin, while nectarines have a shiny, non-fuzzy skin. Although commercially they're sold as different fruits, they're the same species.
🇮🇷 Despite their origins in China, peaches’ scientific name (prunus persica) means “Persian plum” because this fruit was introduced to Europeans through Persia (modern-day Iran).
🌹 Peaches are in the same family as roses, and their pits are very similar to almonds! Peach pits, or “stones”, can even be used to make a cheaper form of marzipan.
🎨 This delicious fruit was an important piece of imagery in the history of both Renaissance symbolism and modern artistic realism! Painters have used peaches and peach trees to symbolize all kinds of ideas, as well as to display their artistic skill when creating lifelike imagery.
🍑 The peach is a modern sex symbol! The peach emoji has been studied by psycholinguists who research interpretation of meaning over text. Thanks to cultural transmission (aka thanks to the popularity of sexting), the peach emoji has a higher baseline of innuendo than almost any other emoji. [I’m sure you can guess the other one 🌝]
THE SCENT OF PEACHES
There are over 2000 varieties of peaches worldwide, and although they tend to share a similar set of aromatic components, they do have measurable differences.
Essentially, every kind of peach does smell a little bit different!
Instead of focusing on one kind of peach for this scent study, I’m going to focus on peaches in general. Generally speaking, peaches have around 100 different aromatic components, give or take. But for this scent study, I’m going to focus on four: gamma decalactone, linalool, beta ionone, and cis-3-hexenyl acetate.
While there are other peachy components—and lots of them—I’m focusing on these four for two reasons: not only are they important to the aroma of real peaches, but they also contribute an important note to a peach perfume.
Together, these four aroma chemicals form the backbone of an odor that is undeniably peachy!
GAMMA DECALACTONE (γ-DECALACTONE)
Gamma decalactone (alternately written γ-decalactone) is a fascinating aroma molecule.
While it appears naturally in peaches, it also appears naturally in lots of other fruits, like strawberries, apricots, mango, plums, and guava; it can even be found in milk, cheese, beer, red wine, white wine, tobacco, and rum!
While you may not be familiar with this aroma chemical, chances are that you’ve encountered it many times over.
Worldwide, hundreds of tons of gamma decalactone are used every year in products you might not have ever expected—from shampoo and sunscreen to surface cleaners and laundry detergent, and even to toothpaste, chewing gum, and candy.
It’s regarded as safe for both food flavoring and aromatic use. It has a strong flavor, too—even at one millionth of a liter, we can taste it in toothpaste and food!
[Disclaimer: do not try to eat pure or even diluted gamma decalactone. Please trust food scientists to make flavors for you, they know how to do it safely! If you want to enjoy its flavor, eat a peach instead.]
In perfumery, gamma decalactone can be used to make all kinds of scents. It adds richness and realism to flowers like gardenia, honeysuckle, and lilac, while it adds a mouthwatering depth to gourmand notes like cream and fruit notes like orange.
Perfumer and academic Steffen Arctander wrote that when gamma decalactone is combined with synthetic musks, it has a heavy floral aroma.
Part of the beauty of gamma decalactone is that it both heavily influences and is heavily influenced by the smell of the things it’s combined with. To me, gamma decalactone has a smell that sits somewhere between peachy and oily. It’s pleasant, but by itself, the oily/fatty note can be off-putting.
Gamma decalactone shines best when it has other strongly-scented aroma chemicals to play with! Vanillin (from vanilla), natural citrus oils like sweet orange or lemon, geraniol (rose/geranium/flowers), and violet leaf absolute (green and vegetal) all shade gamma decalactone in interesting ways.
CIS-3-HEXENYL ACETATE (LEAF ACETATE)
This chemical goes by many names, but the easiest to pronounce is probably “leaf acetate”.
As you can probably guess, it smells quite leafy! Leaf acetate also has a strong note of ripe (or overripe) fruit, as well as nuances of waxy fruit peels, like that of a green banana or an underripe mango.
It can be vegetal, grassy, or fruity, depending on what it’s paired with. It also adds depth and freshness to floral notes, especially those of spring flowers like muguet (lily of the valley) and lilac.
In perfumery, leaf acetate is very common in both green and fruit notes. It’s strong, but just a touch can lend a delightful lifelike quality that transforms scents from fruit candy to fresh fruit. It’s used in flavor applications too, from toothpaste to drink flavorings to baked sweets.
To my nose, leaf acetate smells incredible in combination with our last aroma chemical, gamma decalactone!
Together, the two create an almost chompable underripe peach scent: so realistic that you can almost imagine a yellow-green peach in your hand, not ready to eat but fragrant with the possibilites.
Leaf acetate is widely found in nature, from grass and leaves to fruits, and it’s even found in olive oil (albeit in a super low quantity).
This aroma chemical is one of my favorites not only because of its effects on a scent, but also because of its function in nature!
For example, leaf acetate is used as a signal between plants—although the mechanism isn’t well understood, it appears that leaf acetate is part of a warning system from one plant to the others to activate a defense response when bugs and other tiny herbivores come a-munching.
Leaf acetate also increases the likelihood that the creature’s eggs will later attract (and be eaten by) a predatory insect!
Also, leaf acetate’s overwhelming odor may attract predatory insects to eat the creature currently munching on the plant. Not only does leaf acetate smell good, it’s also battle ready. 😉
Linalool (sometimes spelled linalol) is one of the most common ingredients in fragrance products. It occurs in 60-80% of all scented hygiene and cleaning products, and it's used in up to 90% of all commercial perfumes and colognes!
Linalool is also incredibly common in aromatic plants and foods--it can be found in over 50 kitchen herbs and spices, and it exists in over 200 plants worldwide. You can smell linalool in basil, lavender, coriander, cannabis, mint, cinnamon, rosewood, geranium, jasmine, hops, citrus fruits, and lots of other herbs, fruits, and flowers.
Most commonly, the smell of linalool is described as floral with a touch of spiciness.
But there are actually two forms of linalool--(R)-(-)-linalool (found in lavender, cannabis plants, laurel trees, and others) leans more woody and herbacious, while (S)-(+)-linalool (found in coriander, lemongrass, sweet oranges, and others) smells sweeter and more citrus-y.
To me, linalool smells like fruit loops or geranium, with hints of lavender and citrus. If scents had a texture, linalool's would be prickly or fuzzy! It tickles my nose.
In a peach accord, linalool adds lift to the scent. While a peach accord can definitely smell peachy, it will likely smell flat and dull without linalool. Linalool adds a slightly floral nuance as well a certain zest that makes peaches--whether plucked from the tree or imagined in a perfumer's lab--smell edible and real.
Another cool fact about linalool is that it's being studied for its medicinal and mental benefits! In mice, linalool acts like an anti-depressant, and it also has anti-convulsant effects that may help prevent seizures.
However, pure linalool is considered an allergen. That's because when linalool is exposed to air, it oxidizes quickly, and as interesting as linalool hyperoxides smell, they're not particularly nice to our skin.
For this reason, linalool is one of the 26 ingredients that the EU requires to be printed on labels, even if linalool only makes up 0.001% of the formula. That's why you can find it on almost every perfume or shampoo ingredient label, if you look for it!
β-IONONE (BETA IONONE)
β-ionone (alternately, beta ionone) is a very important scented chemical. Not only does it appear naturally in a wide variety of plants, but it’s also a foundational material in many perfumers’ palettes.
You can find β-ionone in roses, petunias, carrots, raspberries, osmanthus, violets, tomatoes, red grapes, and wine, but natural isolates of this chemical are usually extracted from maqaw shrubs (may chang/litsea cubeba).
Of course, it can be synthesized, too, and this is the most common form of beta ionone found in the flavor & fragrance industry.
Even though β-ionone usually only appears in low concentrations in nature, it’s actually a significant contributor to many scents, especially that of roses, raspberries, and violets!
The scent of β-ionone is characteristic of violets in dilution, but at higher concentrations, it smells softly of cedarwood.
To me, β-ionone provides a lovely, soft fruitiness to scent compositions, along with a sort of clarity. It has floral-fruity tones without being overwhelming.
In a peach accord, it adds a sort of juiciness and transparency, so that the peach scent remains light.
But for some people, β-ionone smells totally different. A slight variation in a single gene affects one of our olfactory receptors that picks up on β-ionone. In 2013, a study suggested that some people smell β-ionone as sour vinegar rather than fruity and violet-like.
Two other studies in 2002 and 2004 demonstrated that 50% of people are partially or fully anosmic to β-ionone, meaning they can smell it only faintly or not at all! 🙊
But for many varieties of peaches, β-ionone is an important scent and flavor compound. It makes me wonder—how do peaches smell differently for people who can and can’t perceive β-ionone?
PEACH ACCORDS IN PERFUME
Although I chose four materials as the backbone for this scent study, there are so many aroma chemicals and natural extracts that have a peachy aroma!
And of course, the cool thing about perfumers is that sometimes we're illusionists. Not every peach formula has to include any of the aroma chemicals in real life peaches.
But if you're looking for something peachy to explore, these materials can help!
🍑simple peach: gamma decalactone, cis-3-hexenyl acetate, linalool, beta ionone
🍦sweet creamy peach: gamma undecalactone (aldehyde c-14), linalool, methyl laitone, aldehyde c-18, velvoutone, cis-3-hexenol
🍬peach candy: gamma undecalactone, gamma decalactone, davana oil, geraniol, ethyl maltol, benzyl alcohol
🥂peach juice: gamma decalactone, cis-3-hexenyl acetate, davana oil, lemon terpenes, hydroxycitronellal, ethyl acetate, nectarate
🌱underripe peach: gamma decalactone, gamma undecalactone, violet leaf absolute, coumarin, linalool, sweet orange oil, cis-3-hexenyl acetate
🌸velvety peach fuzz: gamma decalactone, velvoutone, nectarate, coumarin, beta ionone, verdox, benzyl alcohol, beta damascone
Of course, not every perfumer will make a peach accord with these materials, and that's okay! Creativity in perfumery is encouraged and required.
Always check IFRA guidelines, read safety data sheets, and follow proper lab protocols before blending any materials!
For our peach scent study, I'm sharing two accords!
This is the first one: a minimalistic peach accord using only the four materials we've been exploring lately.
While this accord does smell peachy, in truth it feels a bit unfinished. That's because it's not meant to be functional in a perfume yet—it would still need other materials before it could smell quite right.
If it's not quite right, why share it?
The point of posting an accord like this is to show how just four aroma chemicals can come together to form the backbone of a scent. Real life peaches contain over 100 odorants, and perfumers' peaches may contain anywhere from a handful to a few dozen.
There are near infinite ways we could accomplish a "complete" peach accord. But with just four ingredients, we can smell a peach emerging! I think that's kind of fascinating.
When smelling (and eating) peaches for this scent study, I really wanted to capture the juiciness and life of a fresh peach more than anything! There's all kinds of peachy scents but there's something about the smell right when you bite into a peach that just calls to me.
Each of these ingredients serves to add to the peachiness while also adding depth and dimension: woodiness, fruitiness, ripeness, greenness, creaminess, sweetness, herbaciousness, floralcy, citrus.
To me, part of the fascination of perfumery—and scents in general—is that individual compounds are not 1:1 scents in a blend.
For example, beta ionone smells violet-like, but in this accord, it adds juiciness and body! Cis-3-hexenyl acetate smells like grass or underripe fruit, but in this accord, it provides an effect of a crisp peach skin. Gamma decalactone can smell fatty or peachy or creamy or oily, but with everything else, it makes the backbone of a peach.
While you can learn to smell each ingredient in the mixture, smelling the mixture is smelling the relationship between ingredients, not just smelling the ingredients themselves. Learning how individual ingredients influence each other is one of my favorite aspects of perfumery!
Of course, as always, this is just one example of a peach accord. There are always other paths!
Happy blending :)