Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Steffen Arctander: Fragrance Expert and Game Show Contestant

Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin by Steffen Arctander is the go-to source for flavor and fragrance descriptions related to natural materials. Arctander described his book as "a one-volume dictionary form of [a] practical handbook", but Arctander's book is more than that; it's a dictionary of smells that accounts for a posthumous cult following among perfumers, flavorists, chefs and fragrance fans. So who was Steffen Arctander?

Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin was written to address needs that weren't met by existing trade publications of its time. Arctander was uniquely qualified to write the book as he was an authority on perfume and flavor chemistry, and travelled all over the globe in search of new scents and aromas. Steffen Arctander was a man of firsts. His accomplishments include teaching the first college course on perfume at Rutgers University in 1965. Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin was inspired by the needs of students studying perfume and flavor chemistry. Arctander articulates this in the book's preface:

During three years of lecturing at the University Extension Division, the author became aware of the fact that the perfumery and flavor literature does not include any work that describes the odor and flavor of the raw materials from nature in everyday words. There is no recent or up-to-date handbook of raw materials suggesting the use of the materials, the replacement of one material for another, the proportional strength of flavor materials, etc. Furthermore, there was no up-to-date work which gave any practical indication of availability and present world production of these materials. Export figures are obviously not always indicative of the true production. 

There's more to Steffen Arctander's history than admirers of Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin know. An article in the January 4, 1970 edition of The Central New Jersey Home News states; "At the start of WWII he [Steffen Arctander] joined the British Intelligence Service and did underground work while continuing to live a normal life during working hours. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944, but escaped and continued his intelligence work until the German surrender." 

Roger Moore aka James Bond, 007


What kind of intelligence work did Steffen Arctander do? He was an instructor in high explosives and incendiary bombs for the British Intelligence Service. Steffen Arctander was a chemist, perfumer and man of intrigue on the right side of history. It's enough to make anyone read his dictionary of smells from cover to cover looking for clues related to Arctander's life off of the lab bench.

Anyone who worked in intelligence would be a natural fit for a secretive industry like flavors and fragrances. Arctander calls out the industry's hush-hush quality as fact in his book, "The perfume and flavor trade has been veiled and concealed for decades, if not for centuries." Perfume is a commodity subject to strict confidentiality. It still is, with one exception; the identity of perfumers is no longer hidden. This wasn't the case when Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin was written.

Today's fans of Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origins are familiar with Steffen Arctander's body of work, but there's little in the way of media that gives us a sense of who he was as a living breathing human being. I did a little research and came across something I did not expect to find. On June 22, 1964 Steffen Arctander was a contestant on a game show called To Tell the Truth. 

Arctander's appearance on To Tell the Truth was a surprising find, but it makes sense. His reputation in the industry was tied to stellar academic chops, so his appearance as a "perfume expert" wasn't a threat to industry confidentiality agreements. Steffen Arctander had the kind of cachet that gets a person invited to parties. It's easy to imagine someone inviting him to be a guest on a popular 1960s game show.

What did it take for Steffen Arctander to get "approval" from his employer to be on national television? Did producers of the show or one of the celebrity panelists know or hear about him? We may never know the answer to these questions, but we do know what questions were asked of Steffen Arctander on June 22, 1964 when he was a guest on To Tell the Truth

The formula for To Tell the Truth is simple. Four celebrity panelists interview three contestants, two of whom are imposters. The host of the show moderates a conversation between panelists and contestants so the person who isn't an imposter can be identified. Questions informed by the identity of the true contestant enliven the conversation. There are 16 questions in this episode, but only 15 were answered. The panelists were Orson Bean, Kitty Carlisle, Tom Poston and Phyllis Newman. 

Orson Bean asks: How many musk seeds would it take to make a jar of perfume? I mean, how do you crush those little things down? What do you do with them? Tell me about the citronella grass? Is that the same stuff you use to keep bugs away? Why does it suddenly smell good when you put it into perfume? Evening in Weinspar. That’s a perfume not too well known. Do you know which company makes it? 

Kitty Carlisle inquires: 
Where does Attar of Roses come from? Where does ambergris come from? Can you tell me what happens in Grasse, in France? Can you tell me what flower has never been approximated in a perfume? Can you tell me what kind of a fixative creates the longevity of a perfume? 

Tom Poston asks: What’s the origin of your name, Arctander? Is yours a United States Company? What is the largest...? [The query is cut as Poston is out of time.] 

Phyllis Newman probes: What is your company? What are some of the brand names it makes? Who makes L'Interdit? Do you want to plug anybody? [One of the contestants would rather not say due to ethical concerns, which prompts Newman's interrogation.] Why ethical? It’s something that’s sold, you know, over the counter.

Listening to To Tell the Truth contestants attempt to convince celebrity panelists that they're the real Steffen Arctander is theater for perfume lovers and fragrance trivia buffs. His appearance on a game show offers something his book does not: a sing-song Danish accent that colors his speech, a reserved manner with a penchant for precision, and mischievous micro expressions when he answers questions about perfumery that are definitely tells. 

Watching Steffen Arctander on a game show like To Tell the Truth is the closest fans of Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin will get to experiencing Arctander's humanity. Though his earthly journey ended in 1982, he continues to answer our questions every time we consult his dictionary of smells. It's an incredible legacy.

Research Notes

If you're an astrology aficionado you're probably not surprised to discover that Steffen Arctander, fragrance expert, man of intrigue and To Tell the Truth game show contestant was a Virgo (a man of nines, born in Denmark on September 9, 1919 who died in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 29, 1982). Virgo's characteristic qualities of curiosity, attention to detail, and keen powers of observation characterize his book. You can practically smell them. 

The official biography for Steffen Arctander as read by host Bob Collyer on To Tell the Truth reads:   

I, Steffen Arctander am an authority on perfume. My company supplies the basic essences to many of the great perfume houses both here and abroad. I travel all over the world in search of new scents and aromas. The musk seed from the West Indies, oakmoss from the Mediterranean, cognac oil from the Rhine and citronella grass from Indonesia. As a perfumer I can create a scent which will project a specific image whether it be sophisticated, innocent or mysterious. Next fall I will be teaching the only college course in the world on perfume. 

Steffen Arctander was working for International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) when he appeared on To Tell the Truth. His work history includes the Colgate-Palmolive Company and a successful independent consultancy.

Steffen Arctander's brother was a Danish architect Philip Arctander (1916-1994) who is known for designing the Clam Chair (Muslingestol). Philip was Director of the Danish Building Research Institute from 1968 to 1981 and worked with the United Nations on initiatives to support affordable housing.    

Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin (1960) is free to download in multiple formats on the Internet Archive. If you're a researcher conducting text searches on the book HathiTrust might be a better option, but you can't download the book in its entirety.

The orange To Tell the Truth GIF is designed by BuddyBoy600 on Deviant Art. It's fan art.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Love Potion No. 99: An Aphrodisiac Elixir for the Senses

Love potion. The very notion tastes like alchemy, dry ice and witchery. The concept of food as a talisman isn't new, but when it's attached to love there seems to be an unending string of incarnations.    

Every act of coupling has a unique quality and whether or not it is intended, the potential for creating new life is written into the physical expression of affection. In that tide of energy, identities are exchanged, traded and temporarily obliterated. 

Each person emerges slightly different, yet more themselves than they were before. How could one not try to pierce that mystery by engaging the sense of taste?

Say the phrase “love potion” to Chef Susan Baldassano and she recollects her days at Angelica Kitchen, where the staff and the patrons partook of a mysterious brew called Love Potion No. 99. 

The name pays tribute to aphrodisiac elixirs and brews with flavors shaped by warm spices, as well as fruits, herbs and spices with hints of aldehydic qualities. 

It isn't difficult to imagine perfumer Ernest Beaux taking a break from playing with aldehyde molecules while formulating Chanel No. 5, and partaking of Love Potion No. 99 when he was off the lab bench. 

The intention of the elixir has nothing to do with the scent of freshly scrubbed skin that inspired Chanel No. 5. It's a complementary contrast, which is as it should be. 

  • 6 cups apple or pomegranate juice 
  • 2 cups water 2 tablespoons sugar/honey 
  • 1 oz. (30g) rose petals (food grade) or 1-2 tsp rosewater 
  • 1 stick Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum vera)
  • ¼ oz. (7g) lavender blossoms (food grade) 
  • ¼ oz. (7g) whole nutmeg 
  • ¼ oz. (7g) whole Ceylon cloves  
  • ¼ oz. (7g) candied ginger 
Optional additions (highly recommended): 
  • 2 whole star anise 
  • ¼ tsp. orange peel 
  • ¼ vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract 
  • Simmer juice, water and sweetener. Do not boil as this will produce cloudiness. 
  • Put all herbs and spices in a cheesecloth and steep for seven minutes. 
  • Remove from heat. 
  • Strain liquid from the cheesecloth to extract the flavors. 
  • Serve warm or refrigerate. 
Chef Susan Baldassano, a graduate of the New York Institute for Culinary Education, has been a cooking instructor for over 30 years. She also served as Director of Education at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts, in New York City. 

Chanel No. 5 is famous for its sparkling aldehydic qualities. If you're a Chanel No. 5 fan you'll want to read these popular posts on Glass Petal Smoke:  Why Chanel No. 5 Smells like Babies, Perfume Memories: Chanel No. 5, and Smell & Tell Lectures: Three Years and Counting (2015) (this article includes a video presentation of a beloved Smell & Tell titled Chanel No. 5: The Art and Science of a Timeless Perfume)

Painting of Odalisque with an Orange by Angélique Bègue (2014).