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Hibiscus seeds, also called ambrette seeds, smell like musk. In fact, they provide the only source of musk aroma that isn’t from an animal or synthetic. So, for anyone making a vegan perfume, ambrette seeds are the way to go.

I’ve found them in three forms: the essential oil which is distilled, the absolute which is extracted with hexane to make a concrete and then extracted with alcohol, and a CO2 extraction, which uses compressed cold gas to pull out the aromatic components. While all three forms have the aroma of ambrette seeds—a kind of toasted nuts quality—the essential oil’s aroma is the brightest and most complex. It can also be the hardest to track down. 

When I first received my various ambrette seed absolutes and essential oils, in one, I could just begin to detect the onset of rancidity and at these prices, well… So, I always store my ambrette seed products in the refrigerator, diluted in alcohol to 50%, while my working tinctures, are at 10% concentration. Since I first made the tinctures, a couple of years ago, the aroma has “opened up,” to use wine lingo. Each sample has a musky, toasty complexity that works well with other musks as well as in florals

Ambrette seed is used especially with rose, neroli, methyl ionone, sandalwood, and hydroxycitronellal, to name a few.

Ambrette seed can always help a blend; its only drawback is its expense. As of today, I find the genuine product at about $11/milliliter if you buy an ounce, more if you buy less. Fortunately, a little goes far and lasts for weeks on a smelling blotter. Ambrette seed, for this reason, makes an excellent fixative and modifier for floral perfumes.