Sunday, June 7, 2015

Spice Markets

Spice market in Istanbul
My recent Spice Route Perfume Workshop had me knee deep in spices - and research.  Studying the spice route is really studying the history of civilization. Collecting and selling spices is a global trade and tradition.

I'm lucky enough to live in New York City where ethnic diversity is the norm.  I can wander city streets and travel through various ethnic neighborhoods, each with their own cuisine and spice markets. Chinatown has it's herbal pharmacies and food markets but just up the street is Little Italy. Beyond that is one of the city's Indian neighborhoods with fragrant spices spilling out.  My favorite were the Greek markets on 9th Avenue in the 90's with containers of spices piled high into cone shapes. Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn is teeming with Middle Eastern markets with their potent spices.

There are spice markets all over the world, 
each with rich and colorful histories.

Parisian Spice Market
Bzurya Market
Market in Aix-en-Provence
Herb and spice market in Guangzhou

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Resins and Balsams

My recent class on the Spice Route has me surrounded by various resins and balsams.  They're a principal ingredient in Oriental perfumes and have been used as a fixative since the dawn of the spice route.  I've looked up the definitions of both, as well as gum and oleoresin, and they all appear to be the same.  

According to Elena Vosnaki :
"The distinction between resin and balsam is one of form, on a fundamental level: Simply put and generalizing, resinous materials come in the form of solidified, gum-like "tears" seeping from the elixir vitae circulating into the bark of big trees, such as the Boswellia Carteri (which produces frankincense). Balsams on the other hand are tricky materials, not necessarily tree secretions, often coming as they do from flower pods or bushy twigs (such as vanilla orchids or the Mediterranean rockrose). But there are exceptions to every rule: Opopanax, though resinous smelling itself, actually comes from a herb, opopanax chironium.
So the real focus when referencing balsamic and resinous terminology is how the materials actually smell and how they're different or common in scent, rather than what their origin is.  Therefore, for ease, resinous & balsamic materials are classified into 3 distinct olfactory profiles according to their aromatic properties first and foremost." 
Styrax from the Liquidambar orientalis tree,
smells a little like cinnamon and glue.

In my mind balsams such as benzoin, peru balsam, tolu balsam and labdanum are sweeter and softer. They're gentler and enveloping and add a fixative quality to florals.  Resins like frankincense, myrrh, oppoponax and styrax are widely used in incense and have a more defined characteristic.  They're usually antiseptic so have a medicinal quality to them.

These materials are the basis for Oriental and Amber perfumes, some of the first perfumes, created since antiquity.  In ancient Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Mesopotamia and classical Rome resins and balsams were combined with sweet and pungent spices and exotic flowers to create perfume for the gods.

I'll be hosting and Oriental/Amber perfume workshop in July in my home studio.  Email me for more information or to register.
Amber resin