Smelling delicious! Image Credit: Supplied

Food is in fashion like never before. Even our Facebook and Instagram pages feature more photos of food than friends and family. So it should come as no surprise that our new gourmet tastes are driving a trend for food-scented perfumes, too. The result is an intoxicating fusion of sweet – caramel, almonds and even candyfloss – and spicy such as warm cinnamon in The Body Shop Red Musk and the punchiness of black pepper in A Shot of Thai Lime Over Mango by Jo Loves.

Never mind the link between taste and smell that makes us emotionally and physically crave these fragrances. Did you know that between 70 and 75 per cent of what we perceive as taste is really smell? Take for example a freshly baked cupcake. The reason it’s so satisfying isn’t the sugar-laced icing or fluffy centre – it’s the warm, inviting smell of buttery vanilla.

“Sweet or spicy, gourmand fragrances speak to the very sensual connection between smell and taste,” explains Pierre Aulas, olfactory artistic director at Thierry Mugler. “Pinch your nose, take a bite and you’ll actually taste very little. But when you breathe, the aroma from the food in your mouth travels to the back of your throat and up the nose to give you the full sensory experience.”

Translated into fragrance, if you love food, you’ll get the same release of endorphins that calm and relax us from smelling gourmand aromas as you would from tasting them. “It comes down to how your brain uses the same receptors to recognise smell and taste,” says James Craven, head nose at Les Senteurs, London’s oldest independent perfumery. “Your brain associates the food-like scent with the experience of pleasure you would get from actually eating it, giving you the same high.’

Why foodie scents are in

Like many of the perfumes we wore when we were younger, current gourmand fragrances are largely based on sweet aromas. But there is a fundamental difference. “Gourmand fragrances are more complex,” says Pierre. “They mix sweet and spicy and all the ingredients tend to be strong so you need to know how to balance them. It’s a bit like cooking – just a dash of salt is sometimes all it takes to bring out the sugary undertones of a dish. The same is true when creating a gourmand fragrance as some notes bring out the full flavour of others.”

So perfumers are working to create gourmand scents that are grown-up but still appeal to the child in all of us, inspiring feelings of comfort and carefree pleasure. “Traditionally, gourmand fragrances are anchored in vanilla,” explains James. “Its comforting milky warmth conjures up happy memories of childhood.”

Sweet treats, ice cream, holidays and innocent pleasures certainly help to explain vanilla’s popularity, but there is another more scientific reason for its near-universal appeal. “Vanilla is a molecule found in human breast milk,” explains Mark Crames, head perfumer of the Demeter Fragrance Library, specialists in everyday uplifting scents. “Our sense of smell develops at 12 weeks in the womb, so from the moment we’re born this sense is fully developed and we start associating the scent and taste of vanilla with feelings of nourishment and contentment.” As adults it’s a little like getting a proverbial hug in a bottle. That’s certainly the case with Angel by Thierry Mugler, the gourmand fragrance that started it all in 1992. Its ground-breaking genius lies in its lack of any florals – something previously unheard of in a perfume. Instead, the recipe is based on a sweet centre of vanilla and candyfloss to evoke Mugler’s childhood memories of fairgrounds, with a heavy dose of patchouli and chocolate to smart the senses.

Likewise, the candied apple sorbet and vanilla in DKNY’s new Delicious Delights Fruity Rooty juice harks back to summer days filled with ice creams and lashings of sweet toppings. “Anything sweet-smelling tends to be addictive, too,” says fragrance expert Roja Dove. Certainly with Prada Candy and Viktor & Rolf’s Bonbon, the caramel heart’s made them bestsellers. “Think of how the smell of your favourite sweet treat literally makes your mouth water. Gourmand fragrances are addictive in exactly the same way food is – they are moreish, enjoyable and indulgent. While the most alluring perfumery notes are generally rose, sandalwood and white florals, we can become enthralled by peach, pear and chocolate because they appeal to both our sense of taste and our sense of smell – which is a pretty powerful combination.”

You probably wouldn’t think of pumpkin pie as a mood-setter. “But tasty edible aromas can actually stimulate parts of the brain directly connected to desire,” says Dr Alan Hirsch, director of Chicago’s Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation. The reason is that taste and smell are both processed in the limbic system – the part of your brain where memories and emotions are stored. “When you smell a desirable fragrance on someone – albeit a foodie aroma – it triggers a release of hormones from the brain and you subconsciously become attracted to them,” explains Roja.

When Mark created his Pumpkin Pie Cologne, he stuck to a single note and a linear scent – meaning the cinnamon, ginger and clove aromas don’t change once sprayed on to the skin. Fragrances such as Jo Malone Blue Agava and Cacao Cologne and Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule, meanwhile, contain cocoa, which contains the chemical PEA (phenylethylamine), a stimulant that conjures feelings of well-being and excitement. 

The Library of Fragrance in Pumpkin Pie Dh82, Thelibraryoffragrance.com.

Match your food cravings to your perfume

There’s evidence that a whiff of gourmand scent can curb your cravings for certain foods. Bon appétit!

Craving:  Refreshing sorbet ice cream

Whether they’re creamy sweet aromas or cool crisp top notes, ice cream-inspired scents are powerful mood-boosters. “Thoughts of ice cream mix a little self-indulgence with a hefty dose of sunshine,” explains Mark Crames, head perfumer of the Demeter Fragrance Library. “With that sort of combination, ice cream aromas can only bring to mind happy memories.”


  • Marc Jaocbs Daisy. The aroma of fresh strawberry and ruby red grapefruit notes are enveloped with a lush vanilla to create a feminine and delicious scent.

Marc Jacobs Daisy Dh350, Sephora.

  • DKNY Delicious Delights Fruity Rooty. The mix of candied apple sorbet and vanilla brings to mind an old-school ice cream parlour.

*DKNY Delicious Delights Fruity Rooty Dh200, Debenhams.com.

Prada Candy Dh375, Bloomingdale’s.

Craving: A sweet, sugar-laden dessert

Despite tasting bitter, our brain associates vanilla with sweet comfort food. “Vanilla is often paired with sugar in baking and it’s [associated with] breast milk and milk formulas, so we’ve learned to associate its scent with reassurance,” says Crames. Moreover, a study by Tübingen University in Germany revealed that the scent of vanilla is so calming it stops our fight or flight response when we’re anxious. Considering this is the time when we’re most likely to comfort eat, a vanilla fragrance may be a healthier option after a bad day.


  • The Library of Fragrance Vanilla Cake Batter. The ultimate vanilla and a global bestseller – not too sweet.

 The Library of Fragrance Vanilla Cake Batter* Dh82, Thelibraryoffragrance.com.

  • Vanille Narcisse by L’Occitane. With base notes of vanilla and tonka bean and top notes of blackcurrant, the fragrance is deliciously smooth and sweet.

Vanille & Narcisse Cologne Dh299, L’Occitane.

Craving: a fresh cup of tea and biscuits

Nothing beats the comforting smell of warm baked goods – caramel, nutmeg and spicy ginger – coupled with Earl Grey tea wafting under your nose. “All these scents say homely comfort, and psychologically the effect is that of a weight being lifted off your shoulders,” says Crames.


  • Jo Malone Earl Grey & Cucumber Cologne. A playful interpretation of an English tea that bursts on to the skin with bergamot and crisp cucumber, before drying down to sweet vanilla.

Earl Grey & Cucumber Cologne Dh590, Jo Malone.

  • Roja Parfum Sweetie Aoud. Blends sweet woody Aoud from the Middle East with a perfume blend reminiscent of a French-style patisserie.

Piu Bellodgia Eau de Parfum Dh499, Caron (The Dubai Mall); Roja Dove Amber Aoud Crystal Parfum Dh3,795, Paris Gallery.

Craving: savoury comfort food

“You obviously don’t want to smell like steak and chips, so what you need is a distraction to curb your cravings,” says Crames. “Try scents with tobacco, leather and musk, which are so far removed from any associations with food but still satisfy that need for comfort by their links to cosy firesides or a battered leather armchair.”


  • The Bodyshop Red Musk. Cinnamon adds a feminine touch and is in sweet warm contrast to the smokiness of the tobacco.

The Bodyshop Red Musk Dh295, The Bodyshop.

*Not available in the UAE