Captivating a marvellous journey
Flavours and fragrances have helped shape the way people perceive the world and how they express themselves in the foods we savour and the aromas that surround and delight us. The sensations of taste and smell have always fascinated us.
Tradesmen, philosophers, scientists and historians have marvelled at the ways we sense our chemical surroundings, and the potency of the emotions that can be evoked. Since the very roots of our existence, we have tasted and smelled the world around us, and the way in which we ‘sense’ has become intrinsically interwoven with our most affecting memories and emotions.
Perfume has always proved to be a priceless record of ancient civilisations. The ancient Egyptians used resins, aromatic gums, and unguents to anoint their dead ‘perfumed ones’ (gods, essentially) in the hope they would find immortality in the afterlife, and the Persians and Assyrians created wines flavoured with roses and figs.
The first perfume was created in Europe in the middle ages. The distilling of rosemary flowers in ethyl alcohol created ‘Hungary water’, which was said to have cured the Queen of Hungary of many of her illnesses. Later, people tried to protect themselves from rampant epidemics using powders, perfumed gloves, aromatic vinegars and scented masks. Perfume became synonymous with sensuality during the Enlightenment, when perfumers created light fragrances designed to intoxicate and seduce, such as ‘L’Eau Sensuelle’, worn by Marie-Antoinette. It was the start of something great, and our industry started to take shape.
For over 250 years, the long journey to the modern day international flavour and fragrance industry is punctuated by ground-breaking milestones that led to Givaudan. Our historic roots can be traced to Grasse in France in 1768, when Antoine de Chiris undertook a new venture of harvesting flora and fauna and turning them into raw ingredients for perfumery – taking the first steps into a new world of fragrances. From then to the purchase of Spicetec in 2016, Givaudan has pursued an historic policy of invention and acquisition, of creativity, passion and innovation, always with an eye to the future, enriching the world of scents and taste.
Kaleidoscopes of senses
Over these years, scientists and the industry have come to recognise that our senses of taste and smell are closely interconnected yet psychologically distinct. The way we develop and feed these two senses has changed throughout our history, prompting our most ambitious thinkers to ponder what these shifting societal sands say about us and the ways we perceive our world.
There are challenges, however, in trying to capture the enormous sensory kaleidoscope of taste and smell in words. While the philosophical community struggled to conceptualise taste and smell, figurative phrases like ‘smells fishy’ and ‘leaves a sour taste’ were common. Much philosophical discussion of taste and smell relates to our separation from the animal kingdom – the idea that both senses are ‘linked with our wild instincts’. This is mainly based in them being most relevant to hunting. Their close relationship to biological needs meant flavours and scents were often perceived as being incompatible with pure thought.
The brain has a central role in this process of perception. Its ability to understand information from chemical substances has always been essential for our survival, and understanding this process is also essential for the art of creating cosmetic and cuisine products. When we smell something, it’s because an odorous object has released some of its molecules into the air, which are then detected by our nostrils. Above each nostril, we have a sensitive area (inside a mucous membrane) called nasal epithelial tissue. Imagine a tiny bed of sea anemones, constantly picking up molecules and sending information up to the brain. The twin olfactory bulbs in our brains pick up this information and ‘light up’ a corresponding three-dimensional pattern, which the brain then uses to understand and remember the smell. And when it comes to taste, did you know, for example, that each of us has an average of 10,000 taste buds on our tongue, along with extra ones on the palate, pharynx and upper oesophagus? It is just one more fascinating fact in this kaleidoscope of senses and engaging sensory journey over thousands of years.
‘An Odyssey of Flavours and Fragrances’, a book by Ed. La Martinière, Abrams
The journey described above is drawn from an exclusive Givaudan anthology, ‘An Odyssey of Flavours and Fragrances’, which was published in 2016 and is the result of a three-year project with French publisher Editions de La Martinière in partnership with US publisher Abrams, and brings together five renowned writers, all of whom share a passion for sensory exploration.
“The foods we savour and the fragrances that surround and delight us are at the heart of what it is to be human. This book is our invitation to everyone to discover the profound impact smell and taste has on so many facets of our life,” said Gilles, Chief Executive Officer.
Through evocative writing and fascinating imagery, the book shows how Givaudan has helped shape the flavour and fragrance industry as we know it today and captures our contribution to the industry, from our know-how and creativity to the work we have undertaken to protect the natural resources that are used in our creations.
Accompanying the story are beautiful images that showcase the essence of flavours and fragrances. Photography and illustrations reveal the people, places and ingredients that have helped to establish our Company as it is today.
Olfactive portrait of the perfume Infusion d'Iris