How does cardamom perfume smell

The scent of Christmas

World of spices and flavors

Cinnamon stars, gingerbread, vanilla crescents - Christmas has always been part of particularly sensual taste experiences. A little introduction to the world of spices and flavors.

Maike Rademaker December 16, 2013

If a perfume had to be invented that was called Christmas, everyone could immediately describe what it should smell like. The scent of baked goods would be part of it, of cinnamon and cloves, and of fir branches. And everyone would recognize a Christmas perfume. Or not? It's not that easy with the Christmas scent, because: "Everyone has their own Christmas smell," says the renowned Bochum olfactory researcher Hanns Hatt, "mine is the one for freshly cut firs, roast goose, oranges and candles." even in the post-war period when he grew up, but they weren't so important back then.

Hardly any other example like Christmas shows more beautifully what our nose and what the sense of smell actually is - the way into the heart, without detour. Fragrances are memories, time anchors, and pure emotions. And Christmas is especially important.

Most people in Germany associate the festival with beautiful childhood experiences like no other: the family together, the glitter, the delicacies that are there - no wonder that the mere mention is warming. However, something different warms in all countries. In Brazil and Australia, where it is very warm at the time of year, Christmas smells more like oranges and sun oil - who wants to bake at 35 degrees in the shade. And: The scent of Christmas can also change in a country over time: "It changes with the generations," says Hatt. In the first half of the 20th century, for example, there were nowhere near as many spices as there are now, and also not so cheap that everyone could use them. In times of war, the borders with the Netherlands, the trading center for overseas, were often closed. Only then did clove, cinnamon, star anise, saffron and cardamom conquer the bourgeois bakeries again.

How decisive smelling is for humans is shown by the fact that just reading about a scent can trigger feelings. Who hasn't rediscovered their own nose and their skills in Patrick Süskind's book “Perfume”? These anchors of time and feelings are all the more important to us as the modern world smells less and less in many places. The closed cold chains, the glass counters in the supermarkets from cheese and baked goods should protect, it shouldn't smell there. In other places, on the other hand, it should smell: Fragrances have long been specifically developed and used because goods can be better sold with feelings.

The fine nose

This also works with the Christmas scent. “We have five to six standard fragrances for Christmas,” says Robert Müller-Grünow, owner of “Scentcommunications”, a Cologne-based company that develops fragrances and sells them to companies, “from vanilla and caramel baking scents, to gingerbread scents to fir trees or the smell like dried oranges. ”The Christmas scent is used less where almonds are burned anyway than where there is no food at all: for example in fashion clothing stores and wherever Christmas decorations are set up. "There is then a fir tree and a crib, and the scent is added," says Müller-Grünow.

In these cases, real aromatic oils are rarely used. It is true that the Federal Republic of Germany imports 95,000 tons of spices every year, which are not only used in baked goods, but also in perfumes and foods such as sausages, but they are too expensive and difficult to get hold of to be used for decoration purposes. Instead, the fragrance mixers rely on artificially produced aromas. And the scent copy works.

A vanilla pod consists of 170 substances, and as far as we know, there are 26 alone that make up the bouquet - but the copied smell does not have to be that profound. “People have forgotten how to smell, and how well they can smell depends on the training,” says Müller-Grünow. A trained nose could, however, distinguish whether there is an artificial scent or the original. The human olfactory organ is less well equipped than the dog with its 250 million olfactory cells, but we already have up to 30 million olfactory cells. Behind it are 350 sensors on which the scents rattle. The sensors, says Hatt, work like an alphabet with which olfactory words are written, from the very simple like vanillin to complex ones like the mulled wine spice, which consists of many molecules. One of the first olfactory words, the smell of breast milk, prepares us for Christmas - because breast milk contains vanillin. And the adult also remembers it intuitively. "Fragrances are one of our longest memories and are stable memories," explains Hatt. They are so stable that people with dementia or Alzheimer's disease can still be reached via scents when speech is no longer working.

A fine nose also leads to a huge treasure trove of memories: for an adult there is practically no scent that he has not already smelled. Even if the perfume consists of over 100 fragrances and the individual fragrance can hardly be identified - you could smell it, says Hatt.

The Christmas scent is sacred to the Germans, they want it every year anew - at least a touch of it. When spices become expensive and scarce, companies get inventive and experiment to get the scent into their rooms and cookies. In order to provide for the German housewife even in times of war, the precious spice imports were first stretched and lengthened with powder, then resourceful companies created artificial flavors. And these are still there today, although the originals have long been cheap. It's the small, finger-length bottles on the back shelves of supermarkets.

But the bottles do not contain all the spices that are used for Christmas today. The classic Christmas spices include a whole dozen: anise, ginger, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, saffron, star anise, vanilla, cinnamon - and, although not a spice, but a fruit - the orange. They all have one thing in common: they are not only still comparatively expensive, like saffron. They also all come from distant countries, often from the tropics. It is part of the enchantment that all these spices are exotic and grown in regions that in turn invite you to dream - and that in December, of all times, when it is cold and wet in Germany. It is hardly known that saffron - which comes mainly from Iran - is also grown in Switzerland and Spain.

However, in order for cloves and cardamom to trigger the longing twinkle in the eyes, it takes more than just opening a packet. Because it is not at all directly that they trigger the pleasant memories. On the one hand, it is the oven, the heat of the oven, which elicits the fragrance from the moist dough. And last but not least, the spices also need a certain flavor that is contained in gingerbread dough, mulled wine and Christmas stollen: the sugar. “Spices also have a positive connotation because they are associated with sweets. And the body likes everything that is cute. That's how he's conditioned, ”says Hatt.

For example, cloves alone are by no means so interesting - who thinks of Christmas when they hear clove oil on a sore tooth? And our indulgent insides secretly expect more joys than just satiety from so many spices. “Spices often have an additional function: cinnamon and nutmeg are a mixture of scents, and among them are molecules with characteristics similar to morphine. The body smells that too. We don't just smell with our noses. With every breath, molecules get into the blood and thus into the brain.

Only one industry is virtually immune to the Christmas smell, of all things: the spice dealers, especially the mills that grind and press the grains and pods. Not just because Christmas is for them all year round. The dealers are already starting to prepare the orders for 2014 - after all, the Christmas business is their main season. Your problem: there is a constant smell of cardamom and star anise in the warehouses, and our noses are not only fine, but also clever: they get used to them. And the retailer no longer consciously smells that he is spreading a cloud of Christmas everywhere. The researchers call this the “grace of adaptation”. What remains for the retailer is the pine scent.