Saturday, December 3, 2011

Eau Pear Tingle: A Perfume Inspired by Anosmia

Why would someone who can’t smell want to experience fragrance? In the digital galaxy known as the worldwide web, one voice came through. It was louder than the voices of Whoville, but just as singular in a world that takes the sense of smell for granted. Jennifer Boyer was born without a sense of smell, but it didn't stop her from making a case for fragrance in the lives of anosmics:
"...Aromatherapy products exist because specific scents help you relax, perk up, concentrate, banish mild pain and nausea, etc. It is believed that certain scents can help qualm anxiety and sadness. It’s not fair that an anosmic misses out on the healing properties and mood stabilizers that scents can bring."--The Simian Line: Anosmia

Ms. Boyer’s words are haunting for anyone who appreciates their sense of smell. I found myself growing restless every time I thought about her desire to experience the effects of pleasant aromas in spite of her olfactory impediment. Jennifer Boyer was born without a sense of smell, a type of sensory disorder that is known as congenital anosmia. Despite never smelling a thing in her life Ms. Boyer craved the feelings that are ignited by scent. Would her words evaporate into the digital ether or could a perfume be created that would allow her and other anosmics to experience the emotion of scent, or at least come close?

After beginning a campaign on anosmia awareness sparked by my friend Kathleen Cochran's Parkinson's condition I carefully analyzed the role that trigeminal nerve (v) plays in smell and taste. The trigeminal nerve allows one to feel sensations of texture, temperature and spiciness in the mouth. The same nerve makes a person wince at the odor of ammonia, bleach and other olfactory irritants because the trigeminal nerve has a protective function in humans as well as a pleasurable one. Anosmics can’t detect flavor because aromatic molecules don’t have a chance to mingle with taste receptors for sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami on the tongue, a process known as retronasal olfaction. When smell is absent so is flavor, but taste and trigeminal sensations remain, (the later is a saving grace when it comes to an enjoying food when you have anosmia). This fact is mysterious to most of the population; whether they can smell or not.

The ability to detect the coolness of mint, the heat of cayenne, and the tingling of carbonation is due to impulses carried by the trigeminal nerve. These sensations are capable of inspiring emotion and memory with the same intensity that the sense of smell provides. It’s why supermarket aisles are filled with more flavors of toothpaste, chewing gum and hot sauce than a person could consume in one lifetime. Trigeminal stimulants work through the nose to create similar sensations that are experienced via the mouth. (This is what happens when you use a mentholated chest rub to relieve congestion and inhale the cooling aromatic vapors for relief.) The challenge in creating a perfume that triggers a trigeminal sensation is both chemical and aesthetic. The end result cannot smell medicinal or create too much of a sensation. It has to register emotionally as “perfume” to those who can smell and as a pleasurable “sensation” to anosmics.

In order to be a catalyst for something that has never been done before one must take risks. Social media allows one to tap into groups with similar interests and because conversation occurs in real time, this form of communicating with olfactory enthusiasts is ideal for product ideation. I laid a breadcrumb trail on Twitter, sharing what I learned about trigeminal nerve (v) with Glass Petal Smoke followers. When the level of engagement was at its peak I presented a fragrance brief targeting independent perfumers who follow Glass Petal Smoke on Twitter. Intuition and fearlessness are critical components of creativity; so is luck. Twitter offers the right dose of serendipity to tap into these qualities and that is critical to something as counter-intuitive as a "trigeminal eau".

The fragrance brief was an olfactory conundrum for many as knowledge of the trigeminal link between taste and smell requires a deeper understanding of the science of smell. Kedra Hart of Opus Oils responded immediately; her mother acquired anosmia after hitting her head in an ice skating accident when Kedra was a teenager. Ms. Hart had already been tinkering with peppermint as a trigeminal stimulant when she created “Cool Mist”, a peppermint-based fragrance designed with two functions in mind; to alleviate the symptoms of hot flashes and as a "post-workout" refresher. The fragrance was created for her mother, who could sense the peppermint, so the idea of making a "true perfume" for her mother was compelling. Ms. Hart set out to create a “trigeminal eau” immediately. Her creative process was infused with love, something poetically reflected in her last name.

Eau Pear Tingle took two months to complete. Various iterations were shared with Ms. Hart's anosmic mother until the desired effect was achieved. The final modification arrived at my doorstep on August 30th. Ms. Hart included other fragrances she formulated for her Hollywood boutique and I chose to smell them first in order to get a sense of her style and manage my expectations for the decanting of Eau Pear Tingle. The fragrance inspired a palpable sensation that was well-balanced, sophisticated and highly wearable. It's hard to express in words what it feels like when someone has translated a fragrance brief into a finished product that exceeds expectations, especially when the result is connected to a loving relationship between a mother and a daughter.

Eau Pear Tingle is as much about "sensation" as it is about the unique ability that perfume has to express periods of time. The fragrance starts out with a modern mouthwatering juicy twist that is redolent of green pear, pineapple and a hint of coconut. This is followed by the trigeminal effect of camphor, mint and black pepper that has a delightful side effect; it steadies the breath with a mild cooling sensation complemented by the essence of fir and wood shavings. The perfume dries down to an addictive classic base that is rich in sandalwood and musk. When you wear Eau Pear Tingle you journey from the present into the future and repose in the past. The fact that someone who has anosmia is able to sense this fragrance is truly an innovation in the art of perfumery. It is also cause for the industry to consider anosmia as a source of inspiration for scent creation targeting connoisseurs as well as the 65+ demographic that is regularly snubbed by the industry; whether they have age related smell loss or not.

Dr. Leslie Vosshall of The Rockefeller University is a neurogenetics researcher who specializes in olfactory studies at The Vosshall Lab. With Ms. Hart's permission I shared Eau Pear Tingle with her as an aesthetic evaluation from a scientist would indicate if the formula was on track. Dr. Vosshall is fond of fine fragrance and has a marvelous sense of smell. This is what she had to say about Eau Pear Tingle, “…[It] is a heady mix of a gazillion things—pear/pineapple/coconut predominate at the start. On the waning side it starts to really smell elegant in a way that I am unable to articulate. I wish I could experience it from the point of view of an anosmic to see how they feel about it. Fascinating.”

After reading Dr. Vosshall’s response my mind returned to Jennifer Boyer’s wish. I began communicating with Ms. Boyer on Facebook and asked her if she would like to be introduced her to Opus Oil's Kedra Hart, who was happy to provide her with samples of Eau Pear Tingle. If Ms. Boyer's aromatic wish came true that would bring the creation of Eau Pear Tingle full circle. Jennifer's response and the reference she made to a stimulating raw material was more than coincidental; it reflected the role that destiny plays when serendipity is engaged by forces greater than ourselves. This is what she had to say,  “I would love [to try] that perfume! I thought about wearing peppermint essential oil as a kind of makeshift perfume, just because the trigeminal stimulation is so delightful, but I wasn't sure if it would end up as a perfume disaster! (I thought it might not mix well with my body chemistry, or would make me smell too much like candy.)" 

Opus Oils' Eau Pear Tingle and Cool Mist fragrances were sent to Ms. Boyer immediately. Glass Petal Smoke is happy to report that she is able to sense the trigeminal effect in both fragrances and had this to say about Eau Pear Tingle, "I can feel it in my nose and it feels the same way mint does when I breathe it in." Other anosmics have expressed interest in Eau Pear Tingle and will be sampling the scent to see how it affects their unique sensory makeup. The fragrance is a wonderful tool for bridging the gap between those who can smell and those who can't, encouraging meaningful conversation and putting a face on a sensory disorder that deserves more attention than it gets. Rumor has it that Ms. Hart is already working on a masculine version of the scent, inspired by woods. Talk about putting the "cool" in fine fragrance...

It is not uncommon for people who have anosmia, acquired or congenital, to wear perfume. An interesting query from an acquired anosmic appeared in The Daily Mail this month. The response of the beauty editors included a statement about anosmia at the article's end that is misleading. Not all acquired anosmics regain their sense of smell. That doesn't diminish an anosmic's desire to wear an attractive scent, but it does require that the anosmic experience positive feelings from others who smell their perfume. The anosmic must rely on friends and family members for an honest evaluation of the perfumes they choose to wear.

The statistics on those affected by anosmia (2-3% at last count) do not reflect today's population, especially the baby boomer segment and those with degenerative diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. A social movement has begun on Facebook that marks February 23, 2012 as National Anosmia Awareness Day. It is a day to remember the value of your sense of smell and those who do not share that sensory capacity. You can participate in this event by logging into Facebook and clicking here.

Photos of Eau Pear Tingle, Kedra Hart and Jennifer Boyer were provided by both women. Rights revert back to the owners.

Photo of Dr. Leslie Vosshall from The Rockefeller University website. Rights revert back to the owner.

Glass Petal Smoke does not have a commercial interest in Opus Oils "Eau Pear Tingle".

Monday, November 14, 2011

Anosmia Matters: Whether You Can Smell Or Not

Imagine you are in a foreign country. Perhaps you've visited this place as a child and have a vague recollection of the journey. Maybe it’s the first time you visited and you don’t know the language or customs. You are a stranger in a strange land, hoping that the rules of immersion will hold true and that by being forced to adapt you will eventually develop the skills needed so you can feel like less of an outsider. It never happens.

What you’ve just read parallels the experience of the anosmic in the smell world. People with anosmia inhabit the same terrain as those who have a functional sense of smell, but are not able to physically relate to the experience of smelling. Though the acquired anosmic and congenital anosmic may differ when it comes to feelings of loss caused by the absence of the sense of smell, both may experience feelings of being an outsider when in truth they are misunderstood by the general and medical population. A blind person and a deaf person are easier to diagnose on sight versus a person who can’t smell. It’s ironic that a prejudice of sight has caused science to turn a blind eye towards funding anosmia research, though some of this is beginning to change due to advances in neurogenetics and the association of anosmia with early onset Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Many who are born with a sense of smell, who lose this sense due to disease, physical injury or the aging process, pine for its return and struggle to integrate the absence of smell with their identity. Acquired anosmics commonly struggle with anxiety and depression because they are in a state of grief due to their loss. The struggle is compounded by the fact that smells are hard to describe and once the sense is gone, developing an olfactory vocabulary is quite difficult. Imagine losing a person you loved dearly and not being able to revisit your memories of them because suddenly the reference points for those memories are no longer accessible, no matter how hard you try to find them. The experience of the acquired anosmic can be painfully frustrating and isolating.

Smells are processed in the limbic system, the emotional part of the brain that is tied to memory. This makes smells difficult to describe. When you smell something your brain tells you if you’ve smelled the aroma before, if it indicates danger, will provide you with memories of past experiences associated with that aroma, and will simultaneously imprint new data within the context of your present smelling experience. It happens in a flash. The more conscious you are of this process the easier it becomes to develop an olfactory vocabulary, something many struggle with for fear of being ridiculed for their choice of words. In truth, there are no wrong descriptions when it comes to smell; your unique life experience serves as a guidepost. The rest requires a good thesaurus and a look at a few flavor wheels for reference. If you chose to share smell experiences with friends your enjoyment will grow exponentially. The act of sharing sensory impressions of any kind creates memorable social bonds.

Both congenital and acquired anosmics are incapable of experiencing "flavor", as taste and smell work together to produce the sensation of flavor. Imagine the taste of a casserole with only sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami receptors as your translators (pinch your nose while eating and you will get the picture). There is a little known fact among those who can and cannot smell. The sensation of texture, temperature and spiciness is connected to the trigeminal nerve. These “sensation” based experiences are capable of producing pleasurable emotions and foods that stimulate the trigeminal nerve are often quite enjoyable for anosmics and their smelling brethren.This is why there are so many flavors of toothpaste, gum and hot sauce on the market; each product is, in a sense, trying to get on your nerve. Some examples of trigeminal taste stimulants are mint, cayenne pepper and Sichuan pepper.

In the past few months I have been permitted to participate in anosmic communities on Facebook and have had conversations with anosmics on Twitter. I did not withhold my smelling abilities and made many interesting acquaintances, sharing meals with some of the people that I met. I learned to appreciate taste and trigeminal sensations even more because of this. Glass Petal Smoke has always been a trusted source of inspiration and learning when it comes to smell and taste. As we get closer to Thanksgiving I hope you will take the posts you’ve read on anosmia to heart; especially this one.

It's important to remember that everyone will lose some of their ability to smell as they age. We’re living longer now so it would be in the best interest of all to understand anosmia and get to know those who are living with it. Don’t rely on your eyes to lead you. Seek anosmics out by using social media and get in the conversation. Practice gratefulness and become an advocate for those who lack the sense that brings you to the pages of Glass Petal Smoke in the first place. You will appreciate your sense of smell more and might even make a few  friends along the way.

Notes & Resources:
Anosmia in early onset Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease often manifests as  loss of appetite. The connection to smell is often overlooked and doctors often run tests related to what they suspect is causing weight loss. If you have an elderly relative make sure to keep this in mind if loss of appetite becomes symptomatic. More often than not even the patients themselves don't know that their sense of smell is affected. They simply feel that food doesn't taste good anymore.

The following posts on anosmia appeared in Glass Petal Smoke this year:

Anosmics of the World Unite and Congenital Anosmia are Facebook pages filled with interesting conversations written by and for those with anosmia. If you are an olfie (one with functioning olfactory skills) out yourself and find out what it is like to live without a sense of smell. You'll need to be a Facebook subscriber to participate. The Senseless Life, by librarian Helen Azar, is another anosmia page on Facebook. It focuses on Ms. Azar's journey to regain her sense of smell (which is possible, to an extent, if the acquired anosmia is not caused by a head injury which severs the olfactory nerves).
The Simian Line: Anosmia, a website created by Jennifer Boyer (a congenital anosmic), is rich with content and resources, and is written from the perspective of someone born without a sense of smell. If you are struggling with anosmia or want to know more about what it is like to live with this sensory deficit, pay her site a visit. 

The Anosmia group on Yahoo is a great place for anosmics to find support in a peer-to-peer environment.  You'll need a Yahoo alias to join the group which was established in 1999. [Yahoo Groups are no longer supported on the platform effective 2019. This information is here to illustrate how early the group formed.]
Navigating Taste and Smell Disorders by Dr. Ronald DeVere and Marjorie Calvert is a must-read for those with smell and taste disorders, the medical community and the general population interested in how taste and smell function. The book pulls no punches and is written with compassion as Dr. Ronald DeVere, a neurologist, is an anosmic who runs a taste and smell clinic in Austin, Texas. (P.S. Navigating Taste and Smell Disorders includes recipes!)

Jana Svoboda LCSW is a therapist who is living with acquired anosmia. Her compassion, candor and perspective are truly moving. You can find posts related to anosmia by searching the term "anosmia" on Door Number Two, her blog. 

Illustration of anosmia is from Enfermidades. All rights revert back to the owner.

Glass Petal Smoke conducted the first fragrance brief on Twitter with a focus on creating a trigeminal perfume that could be sensed by people with anosmia. The result of this collaboration will post in December. Kedra Hart of Opus Oils is the creatrix and designed the perfume for her mother who acquired anosmia after sustaining a head injury.
This post is dedicated to Kathleen Cochran, a dear friend who has taught me more about life than anyone I know. Kathleen, I salute you and your tenacity as you live with Parkinson’s disease every day knowing that one day, you might lose the sense you love the most; your sense of smell.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Nosing in the Future: A Periodic Table for Smell

I have a confession to make; I'm a science geek. The sight of a well done periodic table of elements sends tingles down my spine and puts a really big smile on my face. The Royal Society of Chemistry has helped develop a visual interpretation of the periodic table of elements that is interactive and exponentially cool. Chemistry World, the magazine for the Royal Society of Chemists, offers Chemistry in its Element, a periodic table of elements embedded with stories. Click on an element in the chart and a podcast narrated in a British accent is activated. (Note to fellow geeks: are your knees buckling yet?). 

I've often wondered when a digitized version of the Jean Carles Naturals Chart, a tool used for olfactory training in perfumery, would be developed for the public. It would permit anyone who wanted to build an olfactory vocabulary something more than flavor wheels can offer (flavor wheels are focused on retronasal olfaction versus the innate qualities of raw materials, so the flavor wheel approach is only halfway there for those who want to learn about their sense of smell).

The fragrance industry should take a cue from the Royal Society of Chemists and get this project started. Imagine the sound of a perfumer's voice reading an ingredient story against a well designed Jean Carles Naturals Chart. It would be a great way to evangelize the art of perfumery online and bring the foodie crowd into the fold. 

In lieu of an interactive Jean Carles Naturals Chart we can reference Natalie Dee's Periodic Table of Smellements. It is an olfactory periodic table based on a method of categorization that includes the following descriptors: neutral, atmospheric, natural, appetizing, funky, pleasant, kind of bad and freaking gross. It's a cool piece of smell culture for budding olfactorialists.

When I wrote "Exposing the Perfumer" for the May 2007 edition of Perfumer and Flavorist Givaudan graciously agreed to liberate the Jean Carles olfactory training charts and gave the magazine permission to include them. It is one of the few places the Jean Carles charts can be found today.

Jean Carles developed a method for training perfumers and founded the perfumery school at Givaudan when it was the Roure Perfumery School. In his later years he developed anosmia, but was still able to compose fragrances (like Beethoven who composed music when he was deaf). The classic fragrances Jean Carles created include, but are not limited to: Tabu, Canoe, Miss Dior, Ma Griffe, L'Air du Temps and Cabochard.

Image of the Visual Elements Periodic Table is from the Royal Society of Chemistry.

If you like Chemistry in its Element you'll love part two; Distilling the Compounds that Count.

Image of the Cognac Aroma Wheel is from the Bureau International du Cognac. It's one of the most beautiful and well-designed flavor wheels in existence.

Image of Natalie Dee's Periodic Table of Smellements is from her webpage. She's the author of the daily comic Natalie Dee and can be found on Twitter @nataliedee .

Friday, October 21, 2011

Perfumery's Future: IFRA Fall 2011 Presentation

Today I had the privilege of giving the keynote speech at the International Fragrance Association 2011 Fall Meeting and Luncheon. I chose to focus on the same platform I have promoted on the blog for nearly five years: education. Many of you have expressed a need for tools with which to develop your olfactory vocabulary and so today, I asked the regulatory industry to respond to this need while sharing my perspective on perfumery's future and social media.

I could not have done this without the help of Twitter, which allowed me to create a social media fragrance brief asking independent perfumers to create a perfume which could be sensed by those who have no sense of smell (anosmia). Kedra Hart of Opus Oils decided to take the creative challenge and created "Eau Pear Tingle". She accomplished this by using ingredients that stimulate trigeminal nerve V which transmits sensations of heat (cayenne), coolness (mint), tingling (Szechuan pepper) and texture when we taste food. The response from IFRA attendees was enthusiastically positive.

Ms. Hart's mother has anosmia which makes the story of "Eau Pear Tingle" quite poignant. A future post detailing the development of the fragrance will be presented on Glass Petal Smoke in December. If only there was smell-o-vision...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Evolution of Eau de Cologne

The language of fragrance, like flavor, is subject to interpretation based on culture and personal preference. When ingredients used in perfumery double as flavors found in food or drink, a quality of receptivity emerges. Attachments to likes and dislikes fade as a quality of openness emerges. The composition of Eau de Cologne illustrates this best as does the story of its creation. It's evolution in the Atelier Cologne line of fragrances marries modern perfumery to its roots, evoking a quality of reverential beauty one rarely sees in fragrance creation today.

Italian perfumer Giovanni Maria Farina was only 23 years old when he created Eau de Cologne in 1709. The fragrance revolved around a citrus bouquet that included lemon, orange, tangerine, bergamot, lime, grapefruit and neroli that was unique for its time. Lavender, rosemary, thyme, petitgrain (derived from orange leaf) and jasmine supported the citrus signature, but there was an element contained therein which could not be measured; Farina was homesick for Italy and his longing infused Eau de Cologne with memories of his roots.

In a letter to his brother, Jean Baptiste, he writes, "I have created a perfume which is reminiscent of an [Italian] spring morning following a soft shower where fragrances of wild narcissi combine with that of sweet orange flowers. This perfume refreshes me and stimulates both my senses and imagination..." The young fragrance maker, who learned the art of perfumery from his grandmother, was living in Cologne, Germany and worked for his uncle, who owned a luxury goods business. Giovanni Maria Farina accomplished two feats when he created Eau de Cologne; he reconciled his loneliness for the familiar scents of his birthplace while honoring his adopted hometown with a namesake fragrance. Farina made quite a career for himself and his customers included an impressive list of aristocrats as well as literati.

Europeans were attracted to the quality of lightness in Eau de Cologne which contrasted starkly with animalic ingredients like musk, civet, and ambergris which normally besieged their nostrils, (the heady materials were often mixed with spices to create a concentrated perfume). Eau de Cologne's application included use as a restorative by one Mrs. Duplessis from Nogent. Farina advised her to use Eau de Cologne on her husband's paralyzed limbs and prescribed a weekly tonic consisting of 50 drops of Eau de Cologne diluted in a glass of water. Today one would be ill advised to follow this folkloric prescription as modern perfumes are not edible.

In contemporary perfumery the term "cologne" refers to a finished fragrance with a low ratio of essential oils to alcohol. This range can vary anywhere from 2% to 8% and reflects Giovanni Maria Farina's Eau de Cologne formula. Citrus ingredients used in perfumery evaporate quickly due to their volatile nature. This is why one finds them dosed as top notes in perfumery; they make the first olfactory impression and provide a refreshing sensation that usually gives way to more complex synergistic ingredients.

Atelier Cologne founders Christopher Cervasel and Sylvie Ganter were in love with the history of Eau de Cologne and wanted to amplify its citrus bouquet while preserving its revitalizing quality. Advances in the art of perfumery combined with dosing of raw materials in the 12-20% range allowed them to actualize their olfactory dream and create a new category of fragrances called Colognes Absolues. Each fragrance in the Atelier Cologne collection is buoyed by the refreshing citrus quality of Eau de Cologne and possesses long-lasting sillage. There are six fragrances available, each with its own distinctive twist. The current anthology of scents includes: Orange Sanguine, Grand Néroli, Bois Blonds, Trèfle Pur, Oolang Infini and Vanille Insensée. A new addition to Atelier Cologne's offerings is in the works and will be released in the beginning of 2012.

Today the idea of an Eau de Cologne tonic is not impossible to achieve. One can look to modern bitters for  inspiration as many are citrus inspired and approved for imbibing. Bitters may be combined with carbonated water, simple syrup, flower waters, muddled herbs and a variety of alcoholic beverages to produce tempting tipples. Brands such as Angostura Bitters, Fee Brothers, and A.B. Smeby Bittering Company are a good place to start. Several A.B. Smeby formulas incorporate floral essences with enchanting descriptions that speak to the gustatory spirit of perfume. If Giovanni Maria Farina were alive today he would undoubtedly add "molecular mixologist" to his résumé; all of his influences live in the bitters world.

While editing this piece I discovered a formula for Eau de Cologne that belonged to my husband's grandmother, Jeanne Purdy. Grandma Purdy worked as a nurse and used the medical abbreviation "gtts" for measuring drops of essential oil to alcohol, (15 to 16 drops = 1cc = 1ml). The formula was hidden inside the top of one of her recipe boxes.

Giovanni Maria Farina was influenced by the history of perfumery when he created Eau de Cologne. Marie Anne de La Trémoille (Orsini), duchess of Bracciano and Princess of Nerola in 17th century Italy,  introduced the use of essence of Bitter Orange Flower (Neroli) as a perfume to be worn on skin. Farina embraced this ingredient in his Eau de Cologne formula which likely added to its acceptance.

The source for Giovanni Maria Farina's quote comes from: Markus Eckstein, Eau de Cologne, J.P. Bachem Verlag 2006, Cologne. 

William Dorman's "Perfumes-II" article in Volume 6 of Good Housekeeping is charming and worth a read. The feature, which appeared in 1888, focuses on citrus-based perfumes and can be found on pages 190 thru 191. "Perfumes and Perfumery: Cologne," the first part of this series, includes a formula that approximates Farina's Eau de Cologne on page 169.

The photograph of the fragrance ampoule containing Farina's Eau de Cologne and portrait of Giovanni Maria Farina (also referred to in the French style as Jean Marie Farina) is licensed under Creative Commons.

The picture of Atelier Cologne founders Christopher Cervasel and Sylvie Ganter is from the Atelier Cologne website. Rights revert back to the owners.

The photo of Jeanne Purdy's formula for Eau de Cologne taken by Michelle Krell Kydd. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Savor of Memory: Butter Tarts

Butter tart; the sound of the two words strung together are pure poetry. Say the name once and the alliterative “r”s wrapped at their ends make the lips purse slightly, revealing a mouth that looks like a child’s begging for a morsel. Say the name twice and the appetite instantly registers the delectable thought of taste buds taking a bath in sweet butter with a flourish of perfectly flaked crust.

I first encountered butter tarts on a trip to Parry Sound in Ontario, Canada. My husband and I were staying at a family cottage on Crane Lake when our hostess, Kathy Fenwick, pulled out a tray of 24 miniature butter tarts she purchased at a local Walmart. Her eyes twinkled with excitement as she broke the seal, “They don’t have these stateside. I can only get them when we’re in Canada because they're a local kind of thing. You really ought to try one.”

The petite butter tarts were arranged in six rows of four and resembled a collection of defective pecan tarts that didn’t get the proper smattering of crushed nuts somewhere along the Walmart conveyor belt line. A caramel-colored filling gave each pastry a generic and less than seemly appearance. Something in my mind could not reconcile the words “Walmart” and “local”, so I did not partake. That changed the next day and was prompted by a Crane Lake remembrance ceremony for Tom Horsman, a family friend who died in 2010.

The water was particularly placid on the day four boats gathered at Mr. Horsman’s favorite Crane Lake fishing spot. Many in attendance had recently lost loved ones (all fishing enthusiasts) and as a family friend eulogized, created an “overlap of souls” in our presence. Tom's daughter Cynthia cast her father's fishing rod with his favorite lure into the lake and drew it back as memories and tears were shared. We were in the boat with Aunt Kathy when she sent a miniature butter tart sailing on the surface of the lake adorned with a few yellow mums

Aunt Kathy’s thoughtful gesture was inspired by the fact that Tom Horsman loved butter tarts and couldn’t wait to eat them when he and his family arrived at their lakeside cottage. The poignancy stuck, as did a curiosity for butter tarts. I tried Walmart’s version when we got back to the cottage. It was good, but the thought of finding the real thing and uncovering its history was even better.

The next day my husband, Kathy and Sally Lake (the aforementioned eulogist and serious butter tart enthusiast) powered up the boat, arrived at the dock and made a beeline for the car. We drove into town and parked a few steps away from the Country Gourmet Deli, Bakery and Café on James Street. There was a giant wooden moose at the front door and from a distance it didn't seem like there was anything particularly compelling about their offerings. When you stepped inside and arrived at the dessert case everything changed.

Gone was the commercial precision of bakery chains where each category of pastry looks so perfect the notion of human hands being involved simply never crosses the mind. Each offering at the Gourmet Deli, Bakery and Café had a designated shape that was noticeably handmade. The tarts and cookies were marked by a familiar sandy hue that typifies all-purpose flour used by home bakers. The names of each pastry were handwritten in black script on white rectangles of paper; some were legible, some were a little hard to read because the black ink bled through the paper. This was no Walmart.

Gourmet Deli, Bakery and Café offers a variety butter tarts including regular, raisin, pecan and chocolate pecan. Each tart is hand-crimped and resembles a flower. The center has a slightly hardened glaze that conceals the mark of butter tart excellence; a buttery sweet syrup filling that rushes out to meet an eagerly held spoon (or mouth when there is a native Canadian on the other end; some children and adults have mastered the art of eating a butter tart this way despite the fact that the ambrosial goodness in the center has a tendency to run down one's chin). Canadian writer and etymologist Bill Casselman refers to Canadian butter tarts as the "northern nectar of the oven" which is the best description I've come across.

Butter tarts are unique to Canadian foodways, but one cannot discount the influence of immigrants to the country; particularly the Scottish and their Ecclefechan butter tart. According to Sheldon Posen, curator for Canadian Folklife, Ethnology, Cultural Studies at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, "No one else has a butter tart. There are several relatives (or some would say, ancestors) usually cited, such as treacle tart (England), pecan pie (Southern U.S.), black bottom pie (Mennonite), sugar pie (French Canada). But all of these use sweet syrupy bases (molasses, corn syrup, maple syrup) or rely for their identity on additions (pecans). Granted, most have butter in them, but that is not their defining feature. The classic Canadian butter tart uses creamed butter and sugar as its base."

The annual Brampton Fall Fair has run a butter tart competition for decades and competition is fierce. So are the politics regarding what a "true" butter tart is. (The one I ate from Gourmet Deli, Bakery and Café included a touch of maple syrup in the center that may be scoffed at by purists.) The Sweet Oven Inc. in Barrie, Ontario offers 20 varieties of butter tarts, and they reside in the area where the original recipe for butter tarts was published in The Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook in 1900.)  

Toronto Star food writer Marion Kane, writer Max Burns and artist Charles Pachter were interviewed in 1991 by CBC radio and shared their opinions regarding the pedigree and history of butter tarts. All agreed that the mark of a great butter tart is a slightly runny center. I side with all of them. My only regret is that it will be at least a year until I'm in cottage country again. I'll have to dream about butter tarts for now. Thanks Tom Horsman.


Tom Kydd (my father-in-law) and Tom Horsman were best buddies on Crane Lake and knew each other since childhood. Both passed away within months of each other in 2010. My father, Paul Krell, died a year before Tom Kydd did and was an avid fisherman himself. Tom Kydd and my father both served in the U.S. army during the Korean conflict. Dad was in the first division and was stationed in Schweinfurt, Germany. Coincidentally, my father-in-law was in the tenth division which replaced the first division after they had left. Whether she knew it or not, Sally Lake's comment regarding the overlapping of souls was a part of the earthly spectrum of life for both.

The Country Gourmet Bakery Cafe is located at 65 James Street, Parry Sound ON P2A 1T6. Phone: (705) 746-5907.

The New York Times published a recipe for Butter Tarts a few years after this article was published. It's worth making. 

The photograph of Cynthia's hands with father Tom Horsman's favorite fishing lure taken by Ted Steeble. All rights reserved.

The photograph of  "The Two Toms" taken by A.J. Kydd. All rights reserved.

Additional photographs taken by Michelle Krell Kydd. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Summer Food Memories: The Making of Kimchi

I spent most of August dutifully visiting our local Korean market, hoping to see Mike's homemade kimchi in the refrigerated case by the cash register. Cathy, his wife, greets me with a smile; she knows why I'm there. "Good Timing! He's in the back, making kimchi right now. Do you want to see?" I had to pinch myself. First time food experiences have a way of leaving their mark on you, especially those that include a folkloric dish you didn't grow up with.

"You can try the kimchi, but it is ah-fresh and he likes to make it very ah-spicy." Mike's wife has a charming way of attaching the sound of "ah" to words, revealing her Korean accent when she is particularly enthusiastic about something. "I taught him how to make the kimchi and now he makes it better than me. He puts all kinds of things in there and makes it his way, not mine. I don't know what he does, but he makes it delicious!" Cathy throws her hands in the air and shakes her head as she laughs. It reminds me of how my mother teased my father about the mishmash dishes he would make out of leftovers (which were very good and usually surfaced after Thanksgiving or trips to the German butcher in the Bronx where he purchased European deli meats).

Cathy directs me to the food preparation room in the back of the store where Mike is mixing kimchi, his hands protected from the sear of chili by transparent gloves. In front of him is a bowl of rough cut Napa cabbage coated with a fiery red paste flecked with vegetal streaks of green. There are several bowls on the table including sliced daikon radishes, perilla leaves (usually reserved for wrapping finger food in Korean cuisine, but part of Mike's signature kimchi), chopped scallions and bottles of the culinary accoutrements that give kimchi its flavorful punch (fish sauce, hot pepper flakes, etc.). A discarded bag from H-Mart tells me that he doesn't mess around when it comes to ingredients; he goes to the source.

Mike encourages me to taste the different vegetables he uses in his kimchi, each of them coated in a garlicky dressing of his own concoction. Though everything is fiery there is a quality of peppery sweetness that reminds me of poivron rouge, a spice made from ground niora peppers grown in volcanic soil surrounding the Atlas Mountains near Marrakesh. I ask him where that lush pepper taste comes from and he reveals one of his secrets; he grinds fresh red peppers for his kimchi.

Mike has the same quality of enthusiasm for old country foodways that my father had. I repeatedly heard stories about salted cabbage magically transforming into sauerkraut via an alchemical vessel also known as "the wooden barrel," and how sauerkraut kept everyone in the family of five free from sickness during brutal Brzeziny winters in Poland. Like my father, Mike enjoys telling me how healthy his delicious concoction is. When I look at the shape of his hands covered in transparent gloves I see my father's hands, hands that know hard work and never complain, hands that hold the future of children who are too distracted with life to read the story of love and family in the dry lines and taut folds.

I leave the store with the heat of kimchi-to-be in my mouth and a smile that lasts all the way home. My lips tingle and the sensation is akin to being tickled by a thousand little feathers. Knowing this is like having a secret which makes me smile even more. I put the key in the apartment door and realize that thoughts which normally take up residence in my head had taken a much needed vacation, inspiring a state of kimchi Zen.

I return to the market on Wednesday, the day after New York experiences tremors from a 5.8 earthquake. Cathy tells me to wait until Saturday before I eat Mike's homemade kimchi as it will taste better if it has more time to ferment. I am patient for delicious. Three days later, per Cathy's instructions, I taste the kimchi. The howling winds of a downgraded Hurricane Irene go mute as I remember what it was like being in the kitchen when Mike was making kimchi. Its savor and tang inscribes my mouth with a flavorful memory that will never let me forget.

Kimchi is a fermented cabbage dish served alongside savory meals in Korea. There are over 150 different kinds of kimchi made in Korea, which also boasts a Kimchi Museum. It is said that a Korean wife that doesn't know how to make kimchi will have little luck finding a husband.

After getting a copy of my father's papers from Auschwitz I was able to locate the address of the house where he lived in Brzeziny (which was located 20 kilometers east of Łódź, in Poland). Łódź-Park Piłsudskiego-gb-17 is now a park. It has been photographed by MiloTaurus1 on Panoramio. According to my father there was a small barn attached to the property. That is where the sauerkraut barrels were kept.

HMart, a Korean supermarket, is opening in Westchester. It will be located at 371 North Central Avenue in Hartsdale.

Mike and Cathy Jung own Hastings Prime Meats. It is located on 537 Warburton Avenue in Hastings on Hudson, New York. If you're lucky, they're will be some kimchi in the refrigerated food case when you are in the neighborhood.

Photograph of Mike Jung taken by Michelle Krell Kydd. Other photos in this post are licensed via Creative Commons. The picture of a sauerkraut barrel was taken by Aaron Tyo-Dickerson.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Portrait of Congenital Anosmia: The Teenage Years

A person born without a sense of smell has a condition called congenital anosmia. Unlike acquired anosmia, which occurs due to head injury or upper respiratory issues, there are no reference points for smell for the congenital anosmic, no Proustian memories to resurrect. Smell culture is learned by observing others which can be particularly awkward for teenagers who are in a more self-conscious phase of life. 

39-year-old Pauline Lipscomb didn't recognize her congenital anosmia until she was a teenager, "Believe it or not, I didn’t know I couldn’t smell until I was 14 years old. I was dancing with a boy at a school dance who said to me “I used my Mom’s strawberry shampoo. I’m not wearing perfume.” I told him it smelled fine to me, but really, in my head, I was thinking I can’t smell anything; I really can’t smell a thing! I never discussed this with my parents though, I’m not sure why. I was probably afraid they would take me to the doctor... Not having your sense of smell isn’t something you notice for a long time I guess, compared to other senses such as hearing and sight.

26-year-old Marie Sherman is a member of the Congenital Anosmia group on Facebook. On August 10th she shared a poem she discovered while digging through some old high school papers. The poem was part of an English assignment that required the use of "I Am" as the format for expression. The result is precious and insightful as it beautifully illustrates what it is like to be a teenager with congenital anosmia. Ms. Sherman read the poem aloud to her class who were undoubtedly moved by the revelation and ensuing emotional recitation which even Ms. Sherman did not expect.

I Am
By Marie Sherman

I am the quiet one who cannot smell.
I wonder what the world is like, full of smells.
I hear people call me weird when they find out the truth about me.
I see myself sometimes as "that weird girl who cannot smell."
I want to be able to smell everything no matter how disgusting something smells.
I am the quiet one who cannot smell.

I pretend to be able to smell to fit in.
I feel untrue to myself every time I do that.
I touch a nerve in myself because I am not being true to myself.
I worry that when I am on my own my life will be in danger because I can't smell.
I cry because I am not showing everyone the true me.
I am the quiet one who cannot smell.

I understand no one is perfect.
I say that everyone seeks acceptance.
I dream that everyone will be accepted no matter what.
I try to treat people the way I want to be treated.
I hope everyone will feel acceptance.
I am the quiet one who cannot smell.

The unpleasant smells that Ms. Sherman refers to in her poem also include dangerous smells like spoiled food, gas and smoke. Children of congenital anosmics that can smell often serve as the "nose" for that parent.

Scientists think that a mutated gene on Chromosome 18 might be responsible for isolated congenital anosmia. You can read the scientific paper here.

Thanks to Pauline Lipscomb and Marie Sherman for sharing their stories and their photographs (the one of Marie is from her high school years). Additional thanks go out to the Congenital Anosmia group on Facebook for allowing an "olfie" like me to participate as a community member.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Keynote Speaker for Fall 2011 IFRA Luncheon

A big thank to Glass Petal Smoke's followers on Twitter! I appreciate your collective patience and am now permitted to let the proverbial cat out of the bag regarding the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) speaking engagement I hinted at a few weeks earlier.

On Friday, October 21st I'll be giving a keynote speech at the IFRA Fall Luncheon. Everyone, including yours truly, has an opinion about fragrance regulation, but that is not the only thing at stake when it comes to the future of perfumery.

The industry has entered a new phase of communication with consumers that requires authentic narrative management. Companies can't afford to be vertical neutral in a transparent medium like the Internet where access to information and its organic interpretation shapes brands and influences product development. Social media is terrific catalyst for meaningful conversation, but the industry is still struggling with strategies of engagement. Fragrance companies don't have to re-invent the wheel to figure out how to get the conversation going, but they do have to make a commitment to getting the job done.

Education is the best place to begin and perfumers must be included. I shared this point of view when I wrote "Exposing the Perfumer" for Perfumer & Flavorist in 2007. Four years later much of what was predicted in the article has come to pass. All one has to do is look at blogs like Carrie Meredith's Eyeliner on a Cat which recently announced a series based on interviews with indie perfumers.

The catalyst for this type of insider profiling was ignited by Nathan Branch who upped the ante by encouraging dialogue between indie perfumers in his "Letter to a Fellow Perfumer" posts. The Aftelier fine fragrance Haute Claire was created by Mandy Aftel while Liz Zorn created her own perfume in parallel. The result of these conversations produced a missive-styled living perfume brief in four installments that can still be seen by all.

Aftel is no stranger to inspiration; she has been a muse for the craft of natural perfumery and raised an army of fragrance fanatics after publishing Essence and Alchemy in 2001. Her timing coincided with the growth of the Internet. Evidence of her reverence as creatrix in the blogosphere is reflected in recent digital interactions with Victoria Frolova of Bois de Jasmin.

How will the Internet and social media shape the future of perfumery? In honor of Oscar, the gorgeous hunk of feline who graces this post, all I can say is "meow" for now. That cat is in the bag until October 21st.

Oscar was photographed by Robert W. Howington. The photograph is licensed under Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

Liz Zorn's Tumblr is one of Glass Petal Smoke's favorite reads. It is an archetypical revelation of the spirit of "the artist" and a medium the industry should consider embracing. Zorn expresses herself beautifully and her recent statement on the oft misinformed naturals vs. synthetic debate shows a level of soulful maturity. This quote, from a recent post, embodies her essence: "As a perfumer, I must say that I rarely wear perfume for the pleasure of it, as I am always smelling like the workroom. But when I do wear perfume, I apply it to my skin as if it were solid gold. I settle my mind and become present, in the moment, so that I can fully enjoy what is happening. I never want to get to a point in my life where the superfluous external overshadows the sacred moment."

Mandy Aftel, Carrie Meredith and Victoria Frolova are members of The Fragrance Foundation's Indie Fragrance Committee.  The committee, which was formed in July 2011, is dedicated to developing recognition, understanding and appreciation of "Indie" fragrance brands and their creators.

Details regarding the time and place for the IFRA event can be found here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Smell as a Weapon

There are two odors that transcend culture when it comes to bad smells; the odor of decay and that of human excrement. These offensive odors have tremendous appeal for the Pentagon's Non-lethal Weapons Program, which has participated in a Harry Potteresque "dark arts" form of perfumery since World War II. Two well-known stinktacular creations (which failed miserably due to dispersion issues) were "Who Me?" and "U.S. Government Standard Bathroom Malodor".  The names sound like something straight out of a CB I Hate Perfume catalog as they are blunt and leave little to the olfactory imagination.

It's been several decades since "Who Me?" and "U.S. Government Standard Bathroom Malodor" were created. In 2002 The Monell Chemical Senses Center was experimenting with universally repulsive smells and narrowed the stink categories down to odors of human waste, body odors, burnt hair, and rotting garbage (the kinds of smells capable of inciting episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder in combat veterans and good old fashioned revulsion in civilians). Though one may argue that Snooki's new perfume could save the military millions of dollars in stink bomb research, the perfect stink bomb for crowd control/riot deployment has yet to be created (or hacked by LulzSec who some may argue deserve a fine fragrance of their own).
Research that led to the development of "Who Me?" and "U.S. Standard Bathroom Malodor" has inspired a line of personal defense products for consumers. These products don't resemble the prank stink bombs of childhood; they're hardcore malodorants. They can be your weapon of choice, should you chose to defend yourself in a highly unpredictable manner that may result in an unpleasant scenario for you as well as your target. The ingredients are mysterious, but the claims possess all the glamour of spy catalog ad copy. Self Defense Products offers the following stinkers for your offensive odor displeasure: Nasal Nausea, Unnatural Gas, Liquid Roadkill and the ubiquitous Stink Bomb.

Further reading, which includes all the gruesome details regarding smell as a weapon, may be found in "Stench Warfare," an article published in the 2001 edition of New Scientist . It is available, in its entirety, in the 2001 archives of Science Blog.

The Wikipedia "Stink Bomb" page has all the molecular details regarding stink bombs.

Photo of Nasal Nausea from the Self Defense Products website. Camouflage editing by Glass Petal Smoke.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Perfumer Christophe Laudamiel on How to Smell Perfume on a Smelling Strip

Master perfumer Christophe Laudamiel never misses a chance to evangelize the fundamentals when it comes to the art of perfumery.  Think you know how to properly smell a fragrance on a smelling strip? Test your knowledge and experience against this video which was shot in DreamAir's offices in New York City.

The type of smelling strip (blotter) used by Christophe Laudamiel in this video is the "Scored Arrow" model. It isn't typically found at perfume counters. A rich smelling experience is permitted by the wide surface area at the tip. The end that is not used for perfume application provides adequate room for labeling and listing scent impressions. Orlandi is the largest manufacturer of smelling strips and is the go-to source for many fragrance houses. If you wish to order these blotters you may do so here. The item number is 27998A. Glassine envelopes, designed to protect the blotter and prevent cross-contamination, are also available.

Kudos to Leslie Ann of @PerfumeIQ , a follower of Glass Petal Smoke on Twitter. She inquired about the benefits of  Scored Arrow smelling strips in her tweets after Msr. Laudamiel's video  premiered on Glass Petal Smoke. Now everyone can smell like a perfumer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Case for the Connoisseurship of Smell

The sense of smell is least examined by those who can smell. Unlike seeing or hearing, its absence, known as anosmia, is as invisible as the act of scent perception itself. There are many reasons why one should pay attention to their sense of smell. Each one of us will naturally lose some of our ability to smell as we age which can affect appetite and signal the early onset of degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer's disease.

It is important to exercise the sense of smell regularly, just as one would exercise to stay fit. One of the best ways to understand the sense of smell is to recognize what goes on when we taste food. Smell and taste work together to enrich the experience of eating. Becoming familiar with what happens when we can’t smell shines a light on the inner workings of taste. It also helps us understand the experience of those who suffer from taste disorders; a segment of the population that will grow as life expectancy continues to increase.

Nine out of ten people with smell dysfunction have a problem with taste. This is because the sense of smell is linked to the way we perceive flavor. Flavor perception takes place after we’ve swallowed our food and begin to exhale; a process called retronasal olfaction. Cats exercise their sense of smell in a similar way--with a twist. When they detect the odor of urine or estrous they will open up their mouth while they smell. This behavior is called the Flehmen response and also appears in horses. If you try smelling wine in this manner you will detect more of its nuances as taste which enriches the experience of flavor.

Taste receptors on our tongue detect sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (savory) characteristics in the food we eat. The temperature, texture and spiciness of food are detected by the trigeminal nerve. Cooling, burning, spiciness, fizziness (or tingling), pungency and astringency are trigeminal sensations we experience when we eat. Most people who are anosmic can experience tongue tastes and trigeminal effects, and enjoy food when more when these sensations are amplified. If you want to know what its like to have anosmia think about the time you had a bad cold and couldn’t taste the flavors in your food; that's what people with anosmia experience regularly.

The sense of smell is hard wired to the limbic system which is the part of the brain that processes memory and emotion. If you practice smell you are exercising memory; a fact worth considering if you want to stay ahead of cognitive decline at any age. Memories triggered by smell are stronger than those triggered by sight and sound which is what makes the sense of smell so powerful. If you practice describing what you smell you will develop a functional olfactory vocabulary while exercising your memory skills. What you perceive when you smell is related to your individual life experience so there are no wrong answers when it comes to describing what you are sensing.
How do you practice smelling? By making an effort to consciously experience smell and taste.Take a walk in nature and allow your senses to interact with everything around you. Can you smell the dirt under your feet? Has someone cut the grass nearby? Perhaps you can detect the smell of geosmin which is found in freshly turned earth. (Geosmin is related to a fragrant molecule in jasmine and is an aroma gardeners know well. It is also an ingredient in an award-winning perfume by Demeter called "Dirt".) If you are walking down city streets pay attention to what you smell block by block. The aroma of coffee shops, restaurants and food vendors powerfully define the experience of being in a neighborhood and are often the things we miss most when neighborhoods change.

The next step in practicing smell is finding the words to express what you are experiencing. This may seem tricky at first, but it’s easier than you think. Flavor wheels offer a starting point for learning how the combination of smell and taste is categorized. They provide guidance for foods like tea, coffee, chocolate, whiskey, beer, wine, cheese cognac and chocolate, and are easily found on the internet by googling the term “flavor wheel”. Taking cooking and wine tasting classes will allow you to use these tools, but you shouldn't neglect the place where you can learn the most; at home with family and friends. Next time you sit down to a meal consider sharing smell and taste experiences together. Your meal will be memorable and you'll also be keeping your mind fit.

Photo of Glass Petal Smoke's editor, at age two, investigating smells in her aunt's backyard.

YouTube video of the Flehmen response by Mr. Kyle Hayes. Copyright resides with the owner.

Image of "How Humans Experience the Taste of Food," is from The Umami Information Center. The copyright resides with the owner.