Who out there likes a good amber perfume? I sure do! But only Nerd Girl would be brave (or stupid, or obsessed) enough to wade into the Amber Aromachemical Swamp with a net.
First off, amber, the organic gemstone, is not involved. At least, not until a few months ago, but that will be the subject of a different article. Vanilla, labdanum, tonka, ambrette, and benzoin are the true culprits of your swooning compulsion to buy more amber perfume. Today I’ll enjoy confusing you with the subject of benzoin.
Perfumista, be warned. Do not confuse benzoin, that lovely resin, the basis of many a treasured amber scent, with the crystalline compound benzoin. Benzoin resin does not contain this crystalline compound.
In other words, benzoin contains no benzoin. Got that?? Now would you like to feel confused? Styrax (genus) may be known as styrax, storax, benzoin, or, very oddly, snowbell. And perfumes sometimes list, in their notes, benzoin, styrax, and storax, all together. And no, I haven’t figured out why they do that. Or why they ignore snowbell, which sounds like a word that marketing types would go for.
OK, would you like to be even MORE confused??? Sure you would. This is from Wikipedia, and it’s true:
“The chemical benzoin (2-Hydroxy-2-phenylacetophenone), despite the apparent similarity of the name, is not contained in benzoin resin in measurable quantities. However, benzoin resin does contain small amounts of the hydrocarbon styrene, named however for Levant styrax (from Liquidambar orientalis), from which it was first isolated, and not for the genus Styrax itself; styrene is used to produce polystyrene plastics, including StyrofoamTM.”
Wait, don’t change the channel, I’m going to explain, it’s not my fault….
Oh, forget it. I’m too confused. Just know that benzoin resin is a lovely, golden, sticky substance that gives sweetness, depth, and longevity to amber perfumes and incense. It’s warm and sweet, vanillic with a touch of cinnamon. I recommend the Sumatran variety (Styrax benzoin), but some prefer the Thai (Styrax tonkinensis). A lovely mainstream perfume that showcases benzoin is Kenzo Amour le Parfum, in the bronze bottle. But it’s skulking about in virtually every amber perfume ever made. If you’d like to try it in its pure form, you can burn some Papier d’Armenie.
And benzoin doesn’t smell at all like Styrofoam. Really. Does Styrofoam actually smell??