Trend: The Rice Accord
As scents that seem to blend with the skin have grown in popularity, so too have rice accords. With nutty, grassy and earthy facets, the subtle scent of rice seems to enhance the odour of skin and adds soft and soothing textures to a fragrance. There are more than 4000 varieties of cultivated rice, consumed all over the world: long grain, basmati, glutinous rice, red, purple and even black. But when a rice note is used in a fragrance, it will in fact be formed by an accord of materials – accords that display several connotations of what the smell of rice might mean to us.
Grain, Field, Home
An accord could perhaps evoke the dry and starchy smell of the grain itself, or the vapours of steamed rice in the interior of the home. A key ingredient used in recreating the smell of rice is 2-acetyl pyrazine with a nutty and bread-like odour profile that combines well with powdery coumarin (the characteristic smell of tonka bean), musks, and creamy sandalwood.
These notes are typically soft and diffuse. With this aerated feel, a rice accord might also suggest the green outdoor expanse of the rice paddy. This is particularly the case when an accord encompasses the grassy and earthy tones that are present in rice: after all, rice is the grain of species of grass that feeds most of the world’s population. The variety we normally think of is oryza sativa, also known as Asian rice.
A key ingredient used in recreating the smell of rice is 2-acetyl pyrazine with a nutty and bread-like odour profile that combines well with powdery coumarin
In Japanese, there are two words for rice: gohan and kome. While the latter is used for actual rice (usually uncooked), the word gohan means cooked rice but also signifies a complete meal – and the scent of rice then means home. Whilst certain nuances will suggest a dry or uncooked feel, milkier tones bring the rice accord to something along the lines of rice pudding, such as the Indian rice pudding Kheer, with cardamom, saffron and pistachio. This brings the rice accord to a richer smell reminiscent of homeliness, comfort and childhood. This can be created with the creamy lactones, and sulfurol with its milky, bready and fatty facets, which simultaneously display a meaty smell.
Skin, Powder, Water
Aitana López de Carrión, Fragrance Developer at CPL, notes how as a trend in perfumery, rice scents are inspired by looking to Asian cultures that consider rice sacred not only in gastronomy but also beauty rituals. The scent of rice itself is of course delicate, giving a feeling of purity and mildness that can emphasise the smoothness of the skin when used in beauty products. And the rice itself is used in these products: for example, powdered rice bran, the outer layer of the grain, provides an effective exfoliating action.
Historically, one of the beauty secrets of Japanese geishas is to apply rice water for flawless skin. This rice water is beneficial to the hair too, containing a carbohydrate called inositol, a compound with a similar sweetness to sugar that can help repair damaged hair. Amino acids in the rice water also strengthen the hair root – and when the water is left to ferment it can deliver a higher concentration of antioxidants, minerals, B vitamins and vitamin E.
But rice has another connotation with beauty. When we speak of a rice accord in a fragrance, we might also be referring to the powdery smell reminiscent of makeup and cosmetics. This kind of rice accord comes from ‘poudre de riz’ (rice powder). Pulverised rice starch was used as a cosmetic in the Far East to brighten the skin at a time when having pale skin was a sign of privilege. Rice powder was later used in Europe too – as a base for perfumed powders, for whitening wigs, and in face powders, as rice starch particles are much smaller than those found in other starch powders.
THE MATERIALS THAT HAVE TRADITIONALLY BEEN USED TO SCENT POUDRE DE RIZ HAVE COME TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH THE SMELL OF COSMETICS
Although poudre de riz has fallen out of use as cosmetics have changed, the materials that have traditionally been used to scent poudre de riz have come to be associated with the smell of cosmetics – namely orris, and tones of violet and mimosa. These ingredients in themselves have a soft quality, but their presence in poudre de riz and face powders has added to the way in which we continue to perceive them as 'powdery' smells.
Many powdery tones seem to enhance skin odours and a feeling of neutrality thanks to this connection to poudre de riz. The smell of rice then comes to be the smell of cosmetics, of powder – and so too the smell of skin.