Raw Materials Note du Jour: Pink Pepper

Note du Jour: Pink Pepper

08/22/13 13:11:49 (10 comments)

by: Elena Vosnaki

Peruse a fragrance notes list lately, in both mainstream department store brands and niche perfume lines, and you find pink pepper almost at every pace. Suddenly pink pepper is as ubiquitous as musk or rose. It's everywhere, people complain with the distaste of "familiarity breeds contempt" adage. After seeing it in the less heavyweight Chanels (such as Chance flankers or Bleu), Elle by YSL, Tresor Midnight Rose and the like, is the snobbish consumer tired of pink pepper? But the mysteries of this material run deeper than its cutesy name, while the brightly colored evocation—so literal in the real reddish pink berries we buy at the spice specialist for use in cooking—is a welcome diversion, a small gift of perfume daydreaming. Call me superficial, but my heart gives a small leap when I hear about vividly colored stuff; doesn't yours, too?

BOTANY AND ETYMOLOGY


Pink pepper, also called "pink peppercorns" (baies roses in French), is a kind of pepper obtained from the berries of the species Schinus molle and of the related Schinus terebinthifolius, originally a South American tree (Brazil, Peru ... ) with a look close to Babylon Willow (saule pleurer or Salix Babylonia). Formally known as Baie rose de Bourbon or Poivre de Bourbon, pink pepper is also referenced as poivre rosé (literally "pink pepper," thanks to its color), faux poivre ("fake pepper," because it's not hot) and with various geographical appellations (Poivre brésilien, Poivre d'Amérique, Poivre de la Réunion), though it's also produced in other places as well (Madagascar, close to Reunion actually, and New Caledonia, most notably). It has been known ever since the 5th century, according to historical data, but was never as popular as it is now.
 

The name schinus derives from the Greek: σχίνος is the common name for lentisque trees, the plants that produce mastic, a clear gum which is used for chewing and a pleiad of purposes (from aromatic to cosmetic and hygienic), and pink pepper trees produce a secretion that is indeed similar to mastic (also, Schinus molle, pronounced "moyé," i.e. soft, refers to the Peruvian variety, while terebinthifolius refers to the Brazilian variant). Terebinthifolius means "with leaves similar to the pistachio, hence terebinth [τερέβινθος in Greek] comes from." Pink pepper, however, comes from the dried small reddish berries of the tree rather than the secretion of the bark or any of the leaves.

Despite the name predisposing for an exotic and intense experience the constituent which makes pink pepper a ... pepper is carene, an only lightly hot terpene (terpenes give a pine-like, turpentine-like "freshness" to smelly things). Crush a pink peppercorn between your teeth and you will see how your tongue won't catch fire like it would with a whole black peppercorn. Pink peppercorns are not exactly as hot as regular black pepper buds or even a green or white one; those rely on the constituent piperene for their hotness and produce a much more intense tugging at our trigeminal nerve, the one which regulates intense olfactory sensation (interpreting it as a sort of "pain," like when smelling ammonia).

ORIGINS OF A TREND WHICH CONTINUES UNABASHED


The popularity of pink pepper as a fragrance note derives itself from the increasing utilization of it as a culinary spice in recent years. According to Fauchon, "Baie de rose is flavorsome, mildly sweet, and perfect for sprinkling on mixed salads, meats and exotic fruits, among others dishes." Indeed the bouquet of pink pepper is a sweetish, lightly rosy spice that doesn't burn on the tongue like black pepper does, which adds a welcome piquancy to various dishes; as pliable as parsley, as delicate as orange flower water, it adds that extra something. Plus the fumes off a white meat casserole with pink pepper scent the kitchen so deliciously! (Infuse them in some butter and spread on your oxtail before cooking, put some in a vinaigrette and let it sit and then poach some sweet fruit in it and you can thank me later, or better yet if you're ever in Osaka, grab one of those red peppercorn decorated black chocolates on display.)
 

It's a pity that the average American can't fully profit from this France-imported (but Madagascar produced! don't ask ... ) spice; the "macaroni and cheese" out-of-a-box culture has deterred them for so long, but the perfume-loving person, regardless of the pervading fast-food culture around or the soil they're based on (this side of the Atlantic or that one), is vastly more sophisticated than given credit for, almost instinctively knowing there is a world beyond, a world they are eager and willing to explore. However the conscientious shopper should discard those colorful "mills" with green, white and pink peppercorns sold at groceries; the flavor is weak and the scent almost absent, the whole thing is mostly ornamental rather than any use in the kitchen cupboard and the smell library. But we digress.

First there were "baies" and "roses" and no English equivalent that could make justice, rendering the waters a bit muddy. How should one search in the US market for something which they don't know how to say in English?

Diptyque was famous for their Baies candle (and room spray) which however smells of roses and blackcurrant leaves: in a way this combination is echoed in their delicate, Ophelia-evoking L'Ombre Dans L'Eau fragrance, but it was the celebrity following of the candle (also featured in Sex & the City in Carrie's apartment) which made it ultra-recognizable. It was enough to render a familiarity to the niche consumer: baies, berries, and the leap to pink berries wasn't far behind!

But the first fragrance to make use of pink pepper as a distinct fragrance note is none other than the best-selling (and largely trend-setting) Pleasures by E.Lauder, coming out in 1995. Herein lies the interesting part: perfumers don't crush the berries in a mortar and pestle and extract any liquid or oil. No. Pink pepper is a carefully constructed note, which explains all of its current popularity; technology is advancing the craft most rapidly. Of course the innovation was tricky to get right. Lauder had the International Flavors & Fragrances golden standard used, the "soft extraction" technique by which carbon dioxide at a supercritical state (i.e. between liquid and gas) is passed through the dried berries and "softly" extracts the essence molecules, with no imprint on the smell. This produces a "purer" aroma, with sparkling top notes, rather than the bottom-heavy essences derived from traditional extraction techniques.

Perfumers Geza Schoen and Jean-Claude Ellena had a field day after this. Schoen has used pink pepper in almost the entire Ormonde Jayne line, a carefully art-directed collection by Linda Pilington which makes use of the trendiest molecules in a way that renders artistically honest perfumes which appeal even to traditionalists. Isfarkand, Ormonde Man, Zizan and Orris Noir are but the start ... Escentric 01 by Escentric Molecules (Schoen's own line) is further adventurous land for the willing.

Jean Claude Ellena has highlighted pink pepper in many of his offerings, starting with the infamous Rose Poivrée (for his own The Different Company) and nicely expanding into Angeliques sous la pluie for the Frederic Malle collection where the juniper-like facets of the pink pepper (instead of the sweetly rosy, as is the practice with most mainstream perfumes using the note) pair with the angelica and give a gin and tonic evocation that is almost good enough to drink!

In a trend report for 2012 by Scentsy.com, pink pepper was declared "note of the future." By now, you know it's true. There are marketing reasons for it, of course. "Pink Pepper fits the mood of our time," explains Heidi Thompson, President of Scentsy, Inc. in a press release. "It's a spirited fragrance note that offers inspiration to find adventure, be romantic or simply add a touch of excitement to any aspect of life." Tom Pastre, President of Creatique, a fragrance industry consulting firm located in Cresskill, New Jersey, says, "Pink Pepper is appropriate for these challenging times because it's uplifting and has a certain optimism to it. It's bold and zesty, but has a warmth that's comforting. It's the contrasts that make it exciting: feminine and floral, yet sexy and exotic."

Well, no more than other fragrance notes, but you know how trends work. They are drilled onto you.

OTHER NOTABLE FRAGRANCES WITH PINK PEPPER NOTES

It would be futile, nigh impossible, to track every single fragrance with pink pepper notes. Like I said, it's everywhere lately. Therefore the following mentions are but an inspiration to go smell and find your own special fragrance which expresses this "note" for you best.

Le Labo plays on an interesting precipice with their Baie Rose 26, so beware, oh shopper, of intrigued interest: baies roses means pink peppercorns, baie rose indicates a red berry (regardless of peppery warmth or not) and the fragrance itself, composed by perfumer Frank Voelkl, is intensely redolent of spicy, clove-y and pimento accented roses instead. The evocation is more literally one facet of the pink pepper essence (the sweet rosiness) than the sum of its parts. You might keep that at the back of your mind.

L'Artisan Parfumeur's Poivre Piquant is an underrated spicy fragrance which uses the pink pepper note in an interesting way. Bertrand Duchaufour uses pink pepper in Aedes de Venustas eponymous fragrance by L'Artisan Parfumeur as well as in his Al Oudh and incense-y Timbuktu for the same company.

Rose Poivrée from the Different Company (and composed by Jean-Claude Ellena) of course made ample use of pink pepper in a way that highlighted its more human-like qualities, paired with naughty, intimate notes, as is the favored game of the revered perfumer. Even the master of orientalia, surely more intent on denser spices and more honeyed and thick notes than this, Serge Lutens, chooses pink pepper as the top note for Santal Blanc; the freshness and rosiness is a nice counterpoint to the austerity of the wood pencil shavings of the cedar.

Eau de Merveilles has a pink pepper note, too, drowned perhaps in all the saline salty skin and orangeade splashed on, but there if you care to discover it. A similar case for the "skin scent" Archives 69 by Etat Libre d'Orange where the muskiness is allied to the rosiness of the spice. Mauer & Wirtz have used pink peppercorns with citrus essences instead to reinforce that freshness aspect of the berry in their renewed and repackaged 4711 line; a small steal, too, at those prices and a nicely retro packaging to boot.

While Bang by Marc Jacobs has a nice masculine "spicy freshness" about it; the peppery side of pink pepper alongside iso-e super recall the work of perfumers Schoen and Ellena most faithfully. The fragrance is rather bold, distinctive and yet very wearable (as is the whole Jacobs line, but probably the best one out of the lot).

Like with other notes in perfumes, pink pepper is not the be-all or end-all of perfumery. It's however a modern take on a freshly spicy vibe which one should be careful to explore before dismissing; familiarity or ubiquitousness might trap one into losing some good stuff out there!

Elena Vosnaki

Elena Vosnaki is a historian and perfume writer from Greece and a Writer for Fragrantica. She is the founder and editor of Perfume Shrine, one of the most respected independent online publications on perfume containing fragrance reviews, industry interviews, essays on raw materials and perfume history, a winner in Fragrantica Blog Awards and a finalist in numerous blog awards contests.

Her writing was recognized at the Fifi Awards for Editorial Excellence in 2009 and she contributes to publications around the world.

 



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Yowzer-Pei
Yowzer-Pei

Thanks for the article.Learn something new everyday

Jul
23
2016
hopscotch-bunny
hopscotch-bunny

Thank you for the great article! Now I understand why I feel a pink pepper note like punch of ammonia, and why such a beautiful perfumes that include that note smell not so pleasant to me. Unfortunately, a pink pepper note doesn’t work for me.

Jan
03
2014
JezzaN1
JezzaN1

Solid article - especially to those (including myself) who are relatively new to the fragrance game! Personally i love the way the pink pepper note in Viktor&Rolf's Spicebomb contrasts with the sweeter notes in the opening.

Jan
02
2014
gallian
gallian

It's wonderful, loving this material and the way it blends with the notes of the roses.

Jan
01
2014
Aaredhel
Aaredhel

I love pink pepper in fumes. Great article, thanks!

Aug
24
2013
johngreenink
johngreenink

Great article, and wonderful note! One company uses it especially well, Molton Brown - they include it in some of their soaps and a few of their perfumes. It really is a beautiful addition to so many perfumes, thanks for the article.

Aug
23
2013
bond_girl1979
bond_girl1979

Interesting. I have Lalique, and YSL elle, of which I like both.

Aug
23
2013
RosaMilena
RosaMilena

Lovely article! Thank you Elena! I love Pink Pepper!

Aug
22
2013
Nicole1978
Nicole1978

Absolutely wonderful article!!! I love pink peppercorns in cooking. Not much experience with them in perfume myself, but the article is really wonderful!

Aug
22
2013
asher.jessie
asher.jessie

Very nice article! I feel like this is a note that often goes unappreciated, especially since people don't realize what it exactly smells like.... People get this image in their heads of dry, biting, spicy black pepper, when in fact, pink pepper is more of a piquant rosy smell.

It's very often a back-up note to everything else, even though it has such a unique freshness to it.

My favorite pink pepper perfume has to be EL's Pleasures. It's fresh and spicy in such an odd way, thanks to the pink pepper. It really helps to freshen the floral notes, so they don't end up indolic on the skin.

Aug
22
2013

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