Black pepper

black pepperHot, fresh, almost tingly to sniff: this top note perks up many masculine and some female scents, adding instant brightness.

Black pepper’s variously referred to as ‘the King of Spices’, or even black gold, and it’s been traded since the Roman empire, when the ‘spice routes’ to China and India opened up. (Literally, it was a medium of exchange, a form of money.) Everyone knows black pepper as a food ingredient:  it now spices up meals all over the world – it’s actually the most widely-used spice on the planet. (That’s because it also helps digestion, as well as enhancing flavours.)

This flowering vine was originally native to the south of India, where it’s long been used in Ayurvedic medicine. Once upon a time, black pepper’s value was on a par with gold – hence the nickname – and only the rich could enjoy it. (Not only was black pepper ground onto food, though:  it found its way into spells and was used as an amulet to protect against disease and other threats.)

In perfumery, the not-quite-ripe peppercorns of the Piper nigrum vine are dried, crushed and steam-distilled to create an intensely-fragrant oil which is surprisingly complex:  as well as delivering a burst of heat, it’s surprisingly fresh – and woody, too, blending beautifully with citrus fruits like lemon, as well as aromatics including lavender, ginger, clove, coriander and geranium. We love the idea that (as fragrance writer Mandy Aftel puts it), black pepper isn’t just thought to stimulate the mind, but to ‘warm the indifferent heart’…

Perfumer Andy Tauer tells us he’s still experimenting with it, as an ingredient. ‘So far, I have used black pepper only once in my perfumes – together with a bundle of citrus and vetiver. This combo is unbeatable. The brightness and sparkling fuzziness of citrus, the damp woody, earthy brown vetiver and the sharpness of pepper fit like Coke, fries and burger. Pepper, is metallic and spiky, sharp. But compared to cardamom it is actually easier to handle – like a poodle compared to a bull dog. Both are lovely, but the poodle mostly just hops and jumps.’

Smell black pepper in:

Argentum Magician
Diptyque Ofresia
Kingdom Scotland Metamorphic
Molton Brown Re-charge Black Pepper

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