One Thousand Scents

Thursday, June 05, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 5, Raspberry Jam

A great many women's scents nowadays have fruit notes in them: the fruity-floral fragrance dominates the perfume counter these days. Nobody thinks--do they?--that fragrance companies have big vats of fruit from which they extract the essential oils that are combined into scents. When you read from the list of notes that some fragrance or other contains lichee, green apple, and mango--a perfectly plausible set of notes, by the way--there's no chance that any of these things is anything but a laboratory concoction. A rose or a chunk of sandalwood will yield its fragrant heart to the techniques of perfumery, but a honeydew won't, so if something is going to smell like honeydew, that scent will have to be devised by clever chemists with a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer at hand. (There are, of course, plenty of synthetic rose and sandalwood oils out there, too; just because something occurs naturally doesn't mean a reconstructed version doesn't have its uses, too.)

Synthetic flavourings and scents are a part of everyday life. How many kids in North America in the last fifty years or more didn't grow up with drink mixes and candy that supposedly taste like grape, orange, strawberry, and nowadays sour green apple and the like? Those synthetic flavours have inevitably shaped what we think such things ought to smell and taste like. Cherry-flavoured anything (cough syrup, candy, ice cream, even maraschino cherries) doesn't taste like cherries, but like something else altogether--a sort of cultural consensus of what such things are allowed to taste like. I have on my desk by coincidence a package of Sour Blue Raspberry gum (the "blue" part is because there are already too many red fruits in the candy world, I think), and it doesn't smell or taste like any true raspberry: it smells like "raspberry". You can recognize it and name it, but if you compared it to a real raspberry you'd immediately know which is which, that's for sure.

Demeter Raspberry Jam doesn't smell exactly like the real thing: there's a certain fakeness about the raspberry-ness of it. It smells not quite like sticking your nose in a jar of jam, but of someone's idea of what that ought to be like, due, no doubt, to the inherent limitations of aromachemistry and also to the forbidding cost of creating a really precise likeness, if that's even possible. Still, when I put it on for the first time, I had that reaction that unexpected scents always elicit: I laughed out loud in delight and wonder. It doesn't smell precisely like its namesake, but it nevertheless triggers every association--the musky-tart-sweet smell of a raspberry, the cooked quality of preserves. If someone sprayed it on you and didn't tell you what it was, I think you'd recognize it immediately; not fresh raspberries, certainly not "raspberry" candy, not even raspberry juice, but jam. It may be synthetic raspberry, but it's excellent synthetic raspberry, and cleverly constructed or tinkered with so that it has its freshness tamped down, bearing instead a stewed-fruit thickness.

No lasting power, as usual. After ten or fifteen minutes, the jammy sweetness, unexpectedly, has burned away and left behind mostly a sour-fruit aroma (not unpleasant in itself, but not raspberry jam) that smells decidedly more synthetic than the original impression of the scent.

Still, the first thing out of the bottle, that great whack of raspberry jam, is entirely delightful. It's worth the cost of admission.

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