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I recently put together a chart with the names of flower complexes on one axis and compounds (and some naturals) on the other axis. This allows me to see at a glance the range of amounts of each chemical perfumers use to make flowers. Here, I’m using the chart to analyze jasmine perfumes.

Jasmine consists of almost half benzyl acetate. Benzyl acetate does indeed smell like jasmine—a very rough version—and enters into any formula I’ve ever seen. It is usually combined with other benzyl esters—benzyl acetate and benzyl propionate are among the most common–to give shape and individuality to the flower. 

Second in importance to benzyl acetate, is indole. Indole is rather rank smelling stuff (it’s a little like stale mothballs if there is such a thing) that occurs in the flower as a means of attracting insects. While it may be hard to imagine in a floral perfume, there is no jasmine without indole. No light without the dark. Usually, 1% to 2% is included in the formula.

C-14, (gamma decalactone), has a distinct aroma of peaches and is often added for a subtle fruity effect. A small amount (under 1%) of methyl anthranilate (which smells like Welch’s grape juice) contributes another fruity nuance.

Many flower formulas, not just those for jasmine, include amyl cinnamic aldehyde and hexyl cinnamic aldehyde to give cinnamic notes and to provide fixation,

Musk is usually included. Ethylene brassylate was common, but is now replaced by more “modern” musks. 

Certain compounds are used almost universally in flower perfumes. Phenyl ethyl alcohol, which smells like roses, is one such example. The ionones—alpha ionone is used in jasmine—are very typical and help connect florals with woods such as sandalwood.

Muguet—lily of the valley—notes are almost always included when reconstructing the flower’s aroma. Hydroxycitronellal is classic; then came Lyral and Lilial which have since been banned, so other muguet compounds are being developed to take their place. 

Modern perfumes almost all contain Hedione. It is fair to say that there has been no more influential substance in perfumery since the sixties, when it was discovered.

Almost all perfumes contain linalool or linalool acetate to give freshness. When I think of linalool, I think of those tear-open packets of towelettes they use to hand out on trains and airplanes.

Last, the best formulas call for jasmine absolute to fill in the spaces and lend a final naturalness. Nowadays, a percent or two is typical in the finest perfumes, but in the 1920s, a well-known perfume manual insisted that 10% was the minimum needed. I make my own flower complexes in this way and it is very hard to tell the difference between them and the absolute.