After coming back to the origin and evolution of the chypre perfume, we now propose to take a closer look at a new olfactory family. Acidulous and fresh, the citrus olfactory family gathers hesperide scents, made of citrus fruits. Discover the origins of the citrus perfume, whose name comes from Greek mythology, and the characteristics of these refreshing and invigorating fragrances. Please, let us refresh your summer…
The citrus olfactory family: what does it smell like?
The citrus olfactory family gathers perfumes built around citrus fruits such as orange, grapefruit, bergamot, lemon… Their fresh, light and invigorating notes come from the essential oils of these fruits, which are extracted by pressing their zest. This is the method of expression, reserved only for citrus fruits, one of the perfume manufacturing techniques that we explain here. This citrus olfactory family is the oldest of all, used since the first eaux de Cologne appeared in the 17th century. Citrus notes are tangy and sparkling, highly appreciated for the freshness they bring to a composition. You will find them mainly in the fragrances’ top notes, the most volatile.
Let’s go through citrus notes
While all citrus fruits have freshness as a common denominator, each fruit is different and will bring its own personal touch to a fragrance. Today’s great classics are accompanied by fairly new notes that allow perfumers to expand their palette of citrus scents. Among the most commonly used notes in hesperide scent, you will find:
- The lemon: it offers a very energizing and tangy facet. It is a “rising” note, which is going to increase in contact with the other ingredients. Its essential oil is widely used in perfumery, both in eaux de Cologne and in more complex compositions.
- The orange: bitter, sweet, bigarade… Not all oranges can be put in the same basket! Sometimes sweet and sparkling, or bitter with green tonalities, the different varieties of oranges are representative notes of the citrus fragrance.
- Bergamot: the essential oil of bergamot is more complex than the lemon’s. It has a unique, very refined scent. It is the ultimate citrus note. Both floral and sweet, but also green and bitter, it acts as a fixative to create a real bouquet of scents.
- Mandarin: it makes all citrus fragrances shine! Like a real ray of sunshine, mandarin essential oil brings a green and sunny aspect to the slightly bitter accents that come from its skin.
- Grapefruit: between pomelo and sweet orange, grapefruit is a hybrid. And its smell reflects its unique character: fresh, sweet, but also bitter and bright. It unveils a tonic and energizing side. Grapefruit goes perfectly with vetiver in particular, but also with fruity and aromatic notes.
The origins of citrus olfactory family
Golden Apples myth
The Hesperides live in a divine garden on an island in the Aegean Sea. Daughters of Atlas and Hesperis, the three nymphs watch over the tree of Golden Apples, giving immortality to anyone who tastes them, and that Heracles will eventually steal… The legend does not say exactly which fruits were those Golden Apples. But many interpretations suggest they were oranges. Unknown in Greece, the color and the reflections of the sun on their skin made them look like apples! So when the Greeks discovered the first citrus fruits imported from Asia in the third century BC, they named them Hesperide. According to the Romans, this garden of the Hesperides is located between Sicily and Calabria, in the fragrant valleys where the most beautiful citrus fruits grow. The citrus olfactory family is coming…
The birth of citrus fragrance
Hesperides enter perfumery after an Asian expedition of Alexander the Great, who brought in Greece the citron plants. The Arabs grow bitter orange from the 10th century in the Mediterranean. Bergamot appears in the 15th century in Calabria. On the technical side, the birth of the citrus olfactory family is linked with the discovery of steam distillation, concretized by Avicienne, but also with the distillation of alcohol, which paved the way for a new form of perfumery.
The first citrus notes appeared as early as 1370 with the creation of the first perfumed compositions, notably the Queen of Hungary water. This miraculous water is composed of rosemary and sage, which was associated with cedar and bergamot. Several scented waters then appeared, such as the Eau de Mélisse des Carmes, the Vinegar of the Four Thieves… Although the recipes differ, they all include citrus fruits. But the birth of the citrus scent undoubtedly goes back to the appearance of Eau de Cologne. Jean-Marie Farina’s original recipe included lemon, bergamot, petitgrain and neroli. This admirable water, at the crossroads of hygiene, medicine and beauty, will live on through the ages to continue to be used today in mixtures that are just as fresh and invigorating.
Wedding of citrus olfactory family
The citrus notes are light and therefore quite volatile. That is why they have long been restricted to the category of “eaux de Cologne” that are not very long-lasting. But nowadays, they are combined with floral hearts and woody, chypre or musky base notes to sublimate the top notes of eaux de toilette or perfume!
Among these subfamilies, we find the aromatic hesperides. The perfumer thus adds a palette of aromatic herbs like lavender, mint, sage, thyme… This sub-family is quite similar to the formulations of eaux de Cologne. Spicy hesperides come to mind, too. The freshness of citrus fruits is then twisted by the intensity of spices such as cinnamon, pepper, ginger… In the woody citrus accords, the tonic compositions accord with patchouli or sandalwood and are enhanced with powdery notes like iris or mimosa. As you may have guessed, hesperides are not just about colognes, and there are now a thousand ways to combine them to create incredible scents.
Are you a fan of citrus fragrance? Which citrus fruits do you like to smell in your favorite perfumes?
Discover the fragrances mentioned in the article