Rare & Precious: A is for Ambrette Seed

In the pantheon of rare and precious natural perfumery ingredients, ambrette seed is right up there. While not quite as costly or difficult to harvest as the world’s three most expensive essences (those would be orris root, ambergris and oud), ambrette is nonetheless an MVP. It’s highly prized for its intriguingly complex scent profile, outstanding tenacity and exceptional vibrancy.

The story of ambrette seed begins with the hibiscus plant (Abelmoschus moschatus), which is cultivated for use in perfumery in the tropical regions of Asia and South America. While lovely to look at, the hibiscus flower itself has no particular scent. But once the flower has bloomed, it withers and gives way to a pod containing seeds.

The pods gradually ripen, and their highly aromatic seeds are then carefully harvested by hand. Once harvested, the seeds’ essence is extracted by steam distillation. It's quite a laborious process and the harvest yield is low, which accounts for ambrette's hefty price tag of around $350 per ounce.

An indispensable base note in natural perfumery, ambrette seed has what’s known in perfumer’s jargon as an "exalting effect” — it lifts up the other essences in a perfume, uniquely enhancing its overall quality.

Ambrette lends a beautiful powdery-musky element to a fragrance, and it’s used in perfumery to create the natural version of the musk note that is found in many perfumes. As a botanical perfumer who avoids synthetics at all costs, I believe ambrette is a much healthier choice for providing the musk effect than synthetic musks.

With its intensely rich, multi-dimensional scent profile, ambrette can also work as the focal point of a composition. And it’s an excellent natural fixative for perfumes that blends well with all fragrance families. So what does ambrette smell like? I thought you'd never ask :) ...

It's rich and sweet, and clean like fresh linen; it’s musky-floral, and slightly powdery; it’s vaguely reminiscent of peanuts; it contains hints of cognac, tobacco and clary sage, and sensual animalic and leather notes that become noticeable in the incredibly long and persistent dry-down.

In short, it's an amazing kaleidoscope of scents, hard to do justice to in words but an absolute revelation when you smell it!

As you've no doubt gathered by now, I'm an enthusiastic ambrette fan. It’s a must-have in the natural perfumer’s palette. CUSANI Perfumes that contain ambrette seed are Mystic Rose, Haute Bohème, No. 9, Neroli Noir, Westport and Sanctuary. Happy Spring! — Claudia

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