Petit-what?  Petigrain.  (Say it ‘petty-gran’.)  You may not know the name – but you’ve certainly smelled this key ingredient in fresh fragrances, and especially Colognes – something of the sweetness of neroli (orange blossom) – but also woody, fresh, green and maybe a touch bitter, with a slightly masculine edge.

The bounteous bitter orange plant – where would perfumery be without it? – gives us petitgrain, but in this case it’s mostly the leaves and twigs from which the oil is extracted.  Once upon a time, green unripe oranges – just the size of cherries – were also a source of petitgrain, hence the name (it translates as ‘little grains’).  When the leaves and twigs are distilled alongside the flowers, you have what’s referred to as ‘petitgrain sur le fleur’.

There are a couple of ‘twists’ on petitgrain:  a form known as ‘citronnier’ is distilled from the leaves of the lemon tree, in Mediterranean areas;  as you’d imagine, it’s more – yes – lemony.  And the mandarin tree gives us ‘mandarin petitgrain’, with a thyme-like scent.  Today, most petitgrain production’s centred in France, Italy and Paraguay, with some in North Africa.  And as with wine, petitgrain’s affected by the terroir, or the soil and conditions it’s grown in, with each crop having a subtly different scent.

All types of petitgrain contain aroma compounds known as geraniol and linalool that are known to trigger sensitivity in some people, so are listed on perfume packaging.  Most of us are unaffected though, able to delight in the fresh, spirited joy of petitgrain’s citrus pleasures.

Smell petitgrain in:

L’Artisan Parfumeur Fleur d’Oranger
L’Artisan Parfumeur Seville a L’Aube
Maison Francis Kurkdjian Amyris Femme
Miller Harris Cologne 1888


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