Friday, January 25, 2008

Breath Perfumes

In the late 1800’s, T.B. Dunn and Company introduced a “breath perfume” called Sen Sen®. Patchouli, geranium, ionones, orris extracts, nitromusks, anise and clove were some of the ingredients that comprised the oriental flavor of the candy, which was marketed to mask the smell of tobacco. According to F&F Foods, the current manufacturer of Sen Sen®, the candy straddled olfactive and gustative categorization at its inception and “In keeping with its perfumery roots, it was on the market list for many years as a cosmetic.”

Perfuming the breath is not an uncommon ritual in India, where fragrant spices abound. Consumption of mukhwahs—a mixture of fennel seed, anise seed and colored sugar—is customary at the end of a meal. Most restaurants leave a bowl of the refresher at the door as a courtesy to patrons, allowing them to neutralize lingering traces of onion, alcohol and other instigators of bad breath. Rose and cardamom are also used in mukhwahs, though fennel and anise seeds are commonly employed for purifying and uplifting properties categorized as “sattvic” in the tradition of ayurveda.

The history of breath perfumes in twentieth century America was not limited to Sen-Sen®. In an effort to create a “unique and different flavored candy,” Charles Howard enlisted the help of Givaudan’s flavor division and developed Choward’s® Violet in the early 1930’s. Historically, candied violets were a favorite among the Victorians and the French, but Choward’s® Violet was not an homage to sugar petal pleasantries and nostalgia. Its powdery bouquet was designed to eliminate tobacco, alcohol and unpleasant mouth odors, perfuming the breath with the subtlety of potpourri. Choward’s® Scented Gum, the company’s second fragrant creation, is more palatable than the candy that preceded it. Woody tones of musk, violet and a faint trace of patchouli playfully fragrance the mouth and do not overstay their welcome.

An interesting and complex example of fragrant confectionary is Lifesavers® Musk. The iconic pink candy is redolent of rose, violet, patchouli and musk, and tastes like perfumed cotton candy. Where the flavor of Choward’s® Scented Gum quickly fades, the taste of Lifesavers Musk® gently lingers in the mouth an hour after it has been consumed. In perfumery, musk is utilized for its ability to magnify the olfactive characteristics of individual ingredients that are combined with it. Its knack for promoting staying power in fine fragrance has made it the fixative of choice for perfumers. It behaves no differently in flavor applications, as evidenced by Lifesavers® Musk.

Though one may not crave “breath perfumes” or consider them a proper gourmand indulgence, the category does have a distinct place in flavor and fragrance history. Exploring fragrant sweets challenges traditional notions of flavor, providing an opportunity to expand sensory horizons.


Though Lifesavers Musk® is distributed in Australia it can be purchased online through the U.K.’s

Writer Stephen Fowler authored an essay on musk that appeared in issue #3 of Juice Magazine (1995). It is compelling, well written and filled with olfactive gems.

Natural musk is no longer used in flavors and fragrance due to the near extinction of the musk deer. Synthesized musk is now the standard.

Tabac Blond, a renowned perfume classic by Caron, was created to counter the lingering smell of cigarette smoke that would permeate the hair, clothing and fingertips of French women who began smoking in public after World War I. Parallels between Tabac Blond and Sen-Sen® are a reflection of the postwar popularity of tobacco on both sides of the Atlantic.