Fragrance Trends

Perfumer's treasure chest - Coumarin


Celia Cirimbilli

by Celia Cirimbilli, Junior Perfumer at CPL UK


Coumarin (2H-Chomen-2-one) is a fragrant organic compound in the benzopyrone chemical class. The name derives from kumarú, the name in a Native American language in Guyana for the tree Cayenne Gaiac (Dipteryx Odorata). This tree gives the tonka bean, from which coumarin was first isolated. Natural coumarin can be found in variety of other plants like flouve, cassia cinnamon, melilot (or sweet clover), lavender and angelica.

The molecule was first isolated from tonka beans and sweet clover in 1820 by August Vogel of Munich. It is not however routinely derived from a natural, even though it is possible. It is commonly of synthetic origin, produced using what is known as the Perkin Reaction, a reaction discovered by William H. Perkin in 1868. First used in perfumes by Paul Parquet in Fougère Royal by Houbigant in 1882 and Jicky by Aimé Guerlain in 1889, coumarin became more renowned thanks to its use in Shalimar By Jacques Guerlain in 1921.

Now among the most popular ingredients in perfumes, it is included in almost 90% of all perfumes. It has numerous facets and the softness and versality of the note is incredible. A sweet and fresh note will rise from bottom to heart of the fragrance, lingering on skin for hours whilst enriching the overall fragrance.

It has a sweet odour readily recognised as the scent of newly-mown hay.  Alongside its herbaceousness, it displays a slight spicy inclination – as well as a vanillic aspect. This warmth also extends to encompass notes of tobacco and caramel. 

As well as being widely in Fine Fragrance, coumarin also finds its uses in Personal Care and Laundry Care. In the former, the molecule brings a sweet vanilla character to a product where natural vanilla would be too expensive. It combines particularly well in floral accords (such as in Opulent Petal by Ted Baker).

Coumarin can be found in many popular fragrances  such as Mon Guerlain by Guerlain (2017), Narciso Poudrée by Narciso Rodriguez (2016) or Lolita Lempicka by Lolita Lempicka (1997). As a perfumer, I like to use coumarin for its richness and its numerous facets. In Fine Fragrance, I admire its creaminess and powdery notes, bringing depth and character to the fragrance once combined with vanilla and sandalwood, and can also be used in gourmand and oriental compositions.

Often paired with vanilla, benzoin, tolu or peru balm (as in Pi by Givenchy), we can also find it in a Chypre in combination with Bergamot. In traditionally masculine compositions, its hay effect pairs perfectly with lavender and immortelle, as in VIII Rococo Immortelle by Clive Christian (2017).