Cardamom close-up

01st November, 2016

Cardamom is cool right now. Far more frequently applied to masculine than feminine compositions, cardamom’s use in recent perfumery has been scant even though its history is lengthy, dating back to inclusion in the legendary Kyphi (an ancient Egyptian incense type). But that is precisely why cardamom is cool right now; its story and its scent character are largely unexplored and feel unusual to most European and American fragrance consumers. We can now track a handful of scents that magnify cardamom as a focal point.

The overall hedonic of cardamom essential oil might not fit current trending profiles of floriental and oriental fougère, but its effects and properties certainly do. As one of the most multi-faceted perfumery materials I can think of, cardamom displays green, cool, incense-like uplifting facets that contrast with dewy, peppered, white-hot weight. Its diffusion might be short-lived but bursts forth from the skin, aiding projection, contributing nuance, and evoking naturalness. Just as lavender provides a rejuvenating buzz to tonka in the traditional fougère, cardamom can invigorate soft oriental bases with a heady kick and rebalance a composition to be less bottom-heavy, without being overly involved. An olfactory catalyst.

Let us consider the use of cardamom in recent releases through three themes:

The ‘cedarmom’

In the press release for Epice Marine (as documented by Persolaise), Jean-Claude Ellena referred to what he called the ‘accord of the three Cs’ – cardamom, cinnamon, and cumin. This is something that might be playing a lesser role in his style of late, as his increasing transparency trumps density, but was deployed masterfully in his earlier Déclaration for Cartier. The trope I term here ‘cedarmom’ is certainly indebted to Ellena in Déclaration; fragrances that prominently feature cardamom to lift the top notes, but ultimately dry down to warm, dusty, sweetened wood.


The pure

Cardamom can appear dirty and sweaty at high dosages, especially when combined with heavy spices such as clove or animalics, so care must be taken when approaching ‘pure’ cardamom compositions and those that seek to aggrandise the material. The most successful in sales and reviews tend to be those that calm the overdose by building-out a full fragrance triangle and including base materials like musks and resins that add depth and sillage, without stealing the show. Honestly, I don’t think the scents mentioned below have cracked it and there is opportunity here.


The ritualistic

Cardamom can be dark and mysterious, too. If the accent drops to the base, cardamom can provide a useful and memorable tension to a perfume, taking on steamy sticky qualities. Its essential oil can combine with high dosages of incense, amber, or patchouli to imbue a ritualistic impression with vibrant special effects. As the market is so flooded with oud variations, this application of cardamom could prove useful for those looking to update Middle Eastern blends.


The future of cardamom

A move towards cardamom is interesting as an access point to savoury gourmand. With my hand on my heart, I believe that this is no blogosphere conspiracy but a trend that is going to pick up momentum. There is a lot of evidence to show it is already happening with the growing inclusion of notes such as popcorn, salt, and cucumber. Gourmand 2.0. What makes cardamom special is its applicability to a variety of perfume genres that allow it to work harmoniously but also keep its distinctive character. Cardamom is cool right now.

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About the author: Eddie Bulliqi

Eddie Bulliqi is a writer and speaker that analyses what people want from their senses, specialised in the interpretation of tastes and smells, with a background in musicology and history of art. He has worked with Coty, the Estée Lauder Companies, Esxence, the Institute for Art and Olfaction and the World Perfumery Congress. Writing scent poems for fun on Basenotes.


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      • jujy54 | 4th November 2016 11:41

        Cardamom figures into my daily life. I grind a few seeds into my morning coffee. Now I need to explore it as fragrance. Thank you for an intriguing article.

      • | 18th November 2016 05:34

        I fell so in love with the cardamom note in 'Declaration' that I started sampling every variance of it that I could find. My favorite of the culinary/gourmand iterations was 'Voyage d'Hermes' -- so much so that I created a cake based on it. The recipe for it is buried somewhere here in the forums.

        I'm less enchanted with other Ellena creations, and wish he'd return to his former style of weightier scents. I'll look forward to sampling some of the other cardamom scents you list here. Very informative article, thank you!

      • SFolfactory | 20th November 2016 22:36

        Diptyque L'Autre! Exquisite, heady, disruptive -- not for the faint of heart, but a paragon of cardamom perfumery.

      • JBHoren | 26th November 2016 03:34

        You might be interested in "Hawaij" (חוואיג, in Hebrew); the second mixture for coffee -- ginger, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon -- is what's most-commonly used in Israel. We would add it to run-of-the-mill Turkish coffee, when brewing it; and, in a pinch, to instant coffee. It's also a good way to use-up older, out-of-date spices.

      • pkiler | 26th November 2016 04:50

        Cardamom is one of my favorite topnotes to place in fragrances... It's a wonderful oil...