Ethyl Maltol is a very strong perfumery raw material that smells gustative, sweet, of caramel, burnt sugar, and cotton candy. It is no secret now that this raw material is one of the key ingredients in the modern classic: Angel. This raw material is so powerful that it is almost always used in dilution. Despite such an olfactive marking and powerful smell, one of my classmates at ISIPCA was anosmic to Ethyl Maltol. She was not able to smell this raw material at all. It smelled of nothing on a blotter. I find this amazing and also perplexing. I have always wondered how she smelled Angel. It would be like having some tiramisu without the marscapone or everything but the lady fingers missing their coffee?
Another group of raw materials in the dry-ambery (ambré-sec) family that perplexes me as well. I had written about the strange effects of karanal in the past (hidden now). Certain people are very sensitive to karanal (and other raw materials like ambrocenide and timberol/norlimbanol) and they describe karanal to have this powerful piercing quality that actually hurts their noses (like pins being stuck up their noses). I still have these repeated images of watching my colleagues shrivel up their nose and see the pained look with a blotter of pure or diluted karanal under their nose and tossing the blotter aside.
For me, karanal has a smell like any other raw material. It smells dry, ambery, oily, woody, and there is a certain greenness to it (took me years to understand this facet). It is a strong raw material but there is no pain, discomfort, piercing, etc. effect associated with it.
Karanal is used in traces in formulations so it is not so disturbing for my “sensitive” colleagues. However, they are able to perceive the presence of ambery, dry raw materials very well when it is there, even when it is microdosed. I am almost jealous because I am not sensitive to this raw material. I would smell a perfume (or my own work) and find the trace of karanal after smelling through all the citrus, florals, and find it amongst between iso e super and other woods (I detect this raw material from its smell and the slight oily texture that it adds to the fragrance). For my special colleagues, karanal is an elephant in a room.
Personally, I am not really that jealous as I love ambery notes and tend to overdose them – only to expect my special colleagues to shake their heads. Oh how many times, I have come out of the lab after weighing formulas loaded with ambery dry raw materials and my special friends inch away from sitting next to me. Or how many times I have heard “AHH Alex, reduce the norlimbanol!!!!!” Or how many times have we played jokes on my ambery-dry sensitive friends. “Hey, smell this!” (blotter of ambrocenide) and watch them squirm in pain, go ugh, and throw the blotter back at us.
On the other side, there is a perfumer in my company that is anosmic to the raw materials in the ambré-sec family. These products are important in today’s perfumery, so this perfumer still has to use these raw materials despite not smelling them. How he doses these raw materials is based on experience and critiques from his evaluators.
To conclude, it is so interesting how certain people are able to perceive a raw material differently. But how does molecule of karanal able to create this extra stimuli to create pain and discomfort only in certain individuals?