Tolu resin is tapped from the trunks of the tall Myroxylon toluiferum tree, which mostly grows in South America and the West Indies: small incisions are made in the bark, from which thick yellow-brown ‘drops’ are collected. Rich and naturally complex, there are soft, come-hither floral elements to the balsam, as well as sweet vanilla and spicy cinnamon notes; it’s often used in ambrées. (This note is also sometimes called American balsam, or even ‘opobalsam’.) Here’s perfumer Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays on Tolu balsam…
‘Funny how the official descriptions just say is smells balsamic. If someone asks a perfumer what balsamic means, we’d hand them a pot of tolu. It’s another one of those sticky, deep dark resins that you have to smell next to each other in order to spot the difference, another of those thousand year old base notes… In traditional perfumery you’d use it to blend with the top and mid notes, you’d leave the mixture to macerate for months, to give it weight and depth, and to help keep the lighter molecules from flying away too rapidly.
These days you’ve got synthetics which are much easier to use, cheaper to buy and hang around for longer and act more rapidly. So why use tolu at all? Because its feels like a glorious smell. It does more things to your mind and body than just set off your scent sensors. At least that’s what I believe. It makes your perfume do more than just smell good. It starts a conversation with the “still small voice of calm”.’
Smell balsam of Tolu in: