Chemistry Flash – heliotropin

Time for another post in Chemistry Flash series. You seem to quite enjoy reading these medium lenght articles about aroma-chemicals we can find in perfumes. The previous one was published more than a month ago so I though it’s the highest time for introducing you to another fragrant compound. I bet most of you have heard about it. Without further introduction, let’s meet third guest of Chemist in the Bottle. Let the chemistry show begin!

1,3-Benzodioxole-5-carbaldehyde, piperonyl aldehyde, 3,4-methylenedioxybenzaldehyde, piperonal – these might not tell you much at first, but once you hear its most recognizable name you’ll know what the fuss is all about here. Girls and boys, this is heliotropin. Present in perfumery for over one hundret years heliotrope is one of the most known fragrance ingredients of past and present times.

Heliotrope note, depending on its concentration and its company can bring the smell varying from light floral, through yummy almonds and fluffy creampuffs, ending on powdery side of the spectrum. Its foody smell accompanies bitter almonds, frangipani and vanilla. Iris and violets influence heliotrope to turn more powdery. All over the world around 100 different heliotrope species can be found. Surprisingly there’s no good way to obtain heliotrope essence from its flowers.

Why? Some analysis proved that main ingredients of heliotrope essence are anisaldehyde, benzaldehyde and benzyl acetate which don’t represent the smell adequately. On the contrary heliotropin smells quite like heliotrope flowers but… it’s not found in aroma profile of heliotrope.

In the past and nowadays heliotropin is being used to replace heliotrope in perfume compositions. In aromatherapy its smell induced relaxation and comfort. First used for perfumery purpose in 1880s.

C8H6O3 forms colorless crystals that melt at 37*C. Nowadays heliotropin is under a lens of IFRA. They reduced the amount of this aroma-chemical that can be used in perfume products. All because there are proofs that safrols (heliotropin being one of them) in food are carcinogenic and may be toxic to liver. This made IFRA to act preventive fixing new, much lower ratios of heliotropin than before – just in case skin-absorbed or perfume inhaled quantities gave similar symptoms. Please don’t be surprised if your old heliotrope perfume smells different than it’s current issue.

Below are some perfume with heliotrope note

  • Guerlain Après L’Ondée, L’Heure Bleue, Tonka Imperiale
  • Etro Heliotrope
  • Frederic Malle L’Eau d’Hiver
  • Serge Lutens Daim Blond, Datura Noir
  • L’Artisan Parfumeur Jour de Fête
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18 thoughts on “Chemistry Flash – heliotropin

  1. Jordan River says:

    Happy to meet you heliotropin.

  2. jilliecat says:

    Yes, your chemistry flashes are fascinating! Once again, I feel sad about the loss of familiar ingredients, and am glad that I stocked up on some of my old favourites like Apres l’Ondee and Le Dix which are “violet” perfumes that I like.

  3. Dear Lucas
    I can honestly say I’ve never enjoyed chemistry quite so much.
    Thank you teacher!
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  4. shellyw says:

    I too am one of the readers who appreciates the chemistry explanations. And this is found in several of my favorites. I saw a lilac illustration (but not in the discussion), is that also a flower with that ingredient? My replacement for vintage Apres l’Ondee is En Passant, lilacs being part of it might explain why they both are appealing to me.

  5. hajusuuri says:

    Nice post, Lucas! “1,3-Benzodioxole-5-carbaldehyde, piperonyl aldehyde, 3,4-methylenedioxybenzaldehyde, piperonal” is quite possibly the longest chemical name I have ever encountered. “Heliotropin” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue either!

    Anyway, I must be a fan of heliotropin since I love Tonka Imperiale, L’Eau d’Hiver and Daim Blond. Apres l’Ondee gives off a sharp nose-tingling smell…quite unexpected but I’m fine with this in small doses; I have 2 10mL decants and I will swap one away.

    • lucasai says:

      But do note it’s not a one name, these are different names for this one compound of heliotropin. Chemistry language is very broad and one can name a molecule in many different ways.
      I quite like heliotropin too 😀

  6. How interesting! I love these chemistry lessons. Keep them coming!

  7. Natalie says:

    Thanks for the lesson! I like heliotropin, so it’s nice to be introduced “properly.” 🙂

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