A wonderful name for a glorious gum resin ingredient that’s smokey and soft, luminous and sensual all at once. (Some people think it smells like crushed ivy leaves. Others are reminded of angelica, frankincense and celery, while we love this quote from the blogger Boisdejasmin, when she dipped her testing strip into some opoponax: ‘The wave of warm, sweet scent washed over me: it smelled of aged whiskey, mahogany shavings and bitter caramel, but it was also velvety and powdery.’ The resin is extracted from the bark of the Commiphora eyrthraea tree (mostly from Somalia), and is also known as ‘sweet myrrh’. (It’s sometimes spelled opopanax, too, with an ‘a’.)
Opoponax catches alight easily, which explains why it’s been used for incense for centuries: King Solomon apparently regarded opopanax as ‘the noblest of incense gums’. In perfumery, it lends itself most beautifully to Ambrées, working its exotic magic in many much-loved scents.
Here’s what perfumer Sarah McCartney has to say about this ingredient: ‘I bought opoponax at first just for the name. It’s my new favourite word. I had to see what it was like, then I fell totally in love with it. No one outside perfumery knows what it smells like by itself because to blends to beautifully with other materials. I described it recently as having the consistency of molasses, but they’d never heard of molasses either so let’s say it’s like incense treacle. These resinous materials like myrrh, the Peru and tolu balsams, benzoin, labdanum and opoponax have been around for thousands of years, helping perfumes to stick around for longer, blending with flowers, citrus fruit and herbs. They give perfumes a gentle, deep dark, sensuality. When I take the lid off and sniff, I can’t help letting out a long appreciative mmmmmmmmm.’
Smell opoponax in: