Caramel. You are the child of Sugar and Cream, born after a hot wedding night. Sweet you are, and your heavenly aroma transports us to paradise. Blond, light-brown, gold, amber, dark-brown, it seems you emulated the rainbow of our human race. Hard, soft, grained, chewy, enrobing or flowing, your nature is versatile, and your texture is multiple. So many desserts, candies, and snacks would lose their soul without you. You are the taste of our childhood, and your comforting smell will forever remind us that we are just grown-up kids. Sweet Caramel, you say “I love You” much better than words…
Caramelization happens when we heat sugar slowly. As the sugar heats up, its molecules break down, and volatile chemicals such as diacetyl are released, giving the color and smell of caramel. The longer the mixture is heated, the darker and bitter it becomes as sugars transform. The temperature of caramelization depends on the type of sugar used: fructose caramelizes at 110°C when glucose and sucrose at about 160°C. Another transformation, called Maillard reaction, happens between the heated amino acids of the ingredients and the sugars, completing the browning and providing a full-bodied taste to caramel. Caramel is one of the most popular flavors in the Western world and now increasingly in Asia and other developing countries. Butterscotch is a particular version of caramel made with brown sugar, a pinch of sea salt, extra butter and sometimes a spoon of good whiskey, but this is not from where it takes its name. Toffees are made of entirely evaporated butterscotch, containing as much as 99% sugar.
Caramel artificial flavoring is widely used in confectionery today to complement, enhance or fully replace natural caramel. A typical caramel flavoring recipe will include diacetyl or short chain fatty acids for the buttery flavor, vanilla extract or vanillin, maltol for the sugary feeling, some fruity notes from lactones, and maybe some smoky notes of guiacol. The recipe also depends whether the mixture will be heated and how much, with what it will blend, etc.. We are here at the border between science, gastronomy, and art.
Caramel notes are the heart of gourmand accords in perfumery. The inclusion of sweet notes started already in the 1970’s, but we had to wait until the big splash made by French fashion designer Thierry Mugler with Angel in 1992 to see it as a trend. Consumers in the 90’s were searching for some anchoring feeling of childhood, to escape from a stressful and meaningless existence. Angel, created by the nose Olivier Cresp, included for the first time molecules of ethyl maltol, providing a powerful caramel note, further sweetened by strawberry and coconut, and contrasted by a floral accord of jasmine, rose and orchid. Patchouli and an oriental base of Vanilla, coumarin, and sandalwood led us back to a more common oriental accord in the dry down phase. The bottle, created by Mugler himself, is also a real work of art. The masculine version of Angel called A*Men is a little less sweet and woodier than Angel, but keeps a recognizable caramel note in the heart.
With a name like Bonbon, meaning candy in French, we could expect a very sweet juice from this Dutch fashion house of Viktor&Rolf, which perfume line belongs to L’Oreal. In their words, Bonbon is delicious. Created with the intent to fuel desire through a scent so irresistible that one would deem it edible. Caramel characterizes the scent’s evolution. From inception to completion, the caramel notes mature from a sharp, edible top note to softer and milkier in the middle then darkening to add depth to the base note. This fragrance launched in 2014 is built somehow in a similar way as Angel, with a strong caramel note surrounded by fruity accords, on a floral heart and a woody-ambery base. Bonbon is a great fragrance for early Spring festive evenings.
Candy from Prada is another classic gourmand fragrance turning around its caramel note, here supported by vanilla and benzoin, creating a powdery feeling, and some musk for the oriental touch. Reviews are not very generous with Candy, because of its disappointing longevity in comparison with the price. The powdery effect seems to overwhelm the sweetness of the caramel which is not exactly in line with the initial target of this perfume.
With Lira from Casamorati, an old perfume house of Bologna in Italy, resurrected by Xerjoff, we are in the high-end spheres of Italian perfumery, which generally does not leaves much space for gourmand accords. Lira is, however, a beautiful gourmand fragrance, incredibly long-lasting, with a superb blend of caramel and vanilla, freshened by citrus notes and a hint of lavender, with a large bouquet of rose and jasmine. Xerjoff perfumes are not easy to find, but they rarely disappoint the ones who can afford them. The quality and concentration of the ingredients are outstanding. Lira is a perfume for a night at the opera, or anywhere you want to be noticed and admired.
Now, to complete this post with a toffee note, Jimmy Choo Women is the reference. Remember that Toffees are hard caramel candies, with a stronger burnt smell than caramel, and some bitterness as well. The toffee note is blended here with patchouli to create the base of this fragrance, sweet and earthy, powerful yet smooth, while pear, mandarin oranges, and green notes open it with a very fresh and fruity accord. The heart of the perfume is floral with some Tiger orchid note coming right from Malaysia, the country of origin of Jimmy. Orchids do not usually smell, but the art of the perfumer is to imagine an accord that would suit them. What do you think of this one?
That’s all folks; I hope my post this week brought you back to your sweet childhood, that this moment of escapism was resourcing for you and will allow you to wait for my next post, next weekend. (kidding).
Cheers, my friends,