Common name: Benzoin Siam
Botanical name: Styrax Tonkinensis
Supplier: De Hekserij
Blends well with: agarwood/oud eo, ambrette seed eo, ambroxan, iso-amyl benzoate, iso-amyl salicylate, angelica root eo, beeswax abs., benzyl benzoate, bois de rose, cistus, conifer acetate, copaiba balsam, costus root, elemi resin, fir balsam, frankincense, heliotropin, indole, etc. (TGSC)
Chemical components: of the volatile compounds which account for 30%-40%, some of the major ones are: vanillin, benzoic acid, cinnamic acid, benzyl cinnamate. Of the non-volatile compounds which account for 60%-70%, some of the major compounds are: coniferyl benzoate, cinnamic cinnimate, p-coumaryl cinnamate and some of the minor ones are: p-coumaryl benzoate, benzyl cinnamate, cinnamyl benzoate, conniferyl cinnamate, siaresinolic acid, sumaresinolic acid, 3-oxo-siaresinolic acid. (Research Gate)
Interesting bits: Benzoin /ˈbɛnzoʊ.ᵻn/ or benjamin is a balsamic resin obtained from the bark of several species of trees in the genus Styrax. It is used in perfumes, some kinds of incense, as a flavoring, and medicine (see tincture of benzoin). It is distinct from the chemical compound benzoin, which is ultimately derived from benzoin resin; the resin, however, does not contain this compound.
Benzoin is also known [as] gum benzoin or gum benjamin, but “gum” is misleading as benzoin is not a polysaccharide. Its name came via the Italian from the Arabic lubān jāwī (لبان جاوي, “frankincense from Java”). Benzoin is also called storax, not to be confused the the balsam of the same name obtained from the Hamamelidaceae family.
Benzoin is a common ingredient in incense-making and perfumery because of its sweet vanilla-like aroma and fixative properties. Gum benzoin is a major component of the type of church incense used in Russia and some other Orthodox Christian societies, as well as Western Catholic Churches. Most benzoin is used in Arab States of the Persian Gulf and India, where it is burned on charcoal as an incense. It is also used in the production of Bakhoor (Arabic بخور – scented wood chips) as well as various mixed resin incense in the Arab countries and the Horn of Africa. Benzoin is also used in blended types of Japanese incense, Indian incense, Chinese incense (known as Anxi xiang; 安息香), and Papier d’Arménie as well as incense sticks.
There are two common kinds of benzoin, benzoin Siam and benzoin Sumatra. Benzoin Siam is obtained from Styrax tonkinensis, found across Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Benzoin Sumatra is obtained from Styrax benzoin, which grows predominantly on the island of Sumatra. Unlike Siamese benzoin, Sumatran benzoin contains cinnamic acid in addition to benzoic acid. In the United States, Sumatra benzoin (Styrax benzoin and Styrax paralleoneurus) is more customarily used in pharmaceutical preparations, Siam benzoin (Styrax tonkinensis et al.) in the flavor and fragrance industries.
In perfumery, benzoin is used as a fixative, slowing the dispersion of essential oils and other fragrance materials into the air. Benzoin is used in cosmetics, veterinary medicine, and scented candles. It is used as a flavoring in alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, baked goods, chewing gum, frozen dairy, gelatins, puddings, and soft candy. (Wikipedia)
“…This large tree that looks like a birch is called benzoin Laos, benzoin Siam, or benzoin aliboufier. The tree’s fragrant exudation, benzoin gum, is what is harvested. Production of this resin is artificially stimulated by making incisions in the trunk of a mature tree in the month of September. Several incisions are made on the same tree; a tree can produce for two to three years. The incision in the bark is in the shape of a “V” or a rectangle, so that the precious resin accumulates between the flap of bark and the trunk. Benzoin flows down the trunk in brittle, white tears a few weeks after the initial tapping. The year’s one harvest takes place in January and February. The benzoin tears are then cleaned and sorted by size and color to be given different grades No. 2 gum, No.3 gum, or No. 5 gum each with its own olfactory qualities. The tears are then shipped in wooden crates to our production plant in Spain. The ethanol distillation of the No. 3 gum results in the solid No. 3 benzoin resinoid. Diluting this substance in the DPG solvent means the resinoid can be more readily incorporated into formulae. Its sweet, milky, vanilla-like smell is reminiscent of vanilla beans. The No. 5 resinoid, with even sweeter notes, is produced from the No. 5 gum. (Albert Vieille SAS via TGSC)
Benzoin is the fragrant, resinous exudation secreted by a tree the Styrax tonkinensis after an attack by a parasite or an incision in the trunk. In September, the styrax growers manually tap the tree, making multiple incisions on the trunks of mature trees to encourage exudation of the precious gum. After only a few weeks, the white, brittle tears of benzoin flow down the trunk. Oxidation of the tears, caused by contact with the air, will give them a superficial, orangey-brown color. Harvesting the tears does not take place until January and February. The tears of various sizes (grades 2, 3, and 5) are then sent to a warehouse to be cleaned and sorted by size and color. They are next shipped in wooden crates to our production site in Spain to undergo an ethanol extraction resulting in benzoin resinoids No. 3 and No. 5, depending on the grade used. The sweet, vanilla-like smell of No. 5 benzoin resinoid is very popular in gourmand perfume compositions. Diluting the resinoid in a solvent makes it easier to use in formulas. (Albert Vieille SAS via TGSC)
Benzoin – not to be confused with ‘benjamin gum’ or Benzoïne – is a balsamic resin or balsam (AFNOR NF T 75-006, 1998) exuding from Styrax species (Styracaceae) that was employed since ancient time. First evidences conﬁrmed that benzoin balsam was traded to China about A.D. 800 to be used notably as a ﬁxative for perfumes (Arctander, 1960; Langenheim, 2003). In the Mediterranean basin, it was valued for its therapeutic, pharmacological and odoriferous properties: it was notably used in the Middle-East as a substitute to incense in religious ceremonies, often in combination with frankincense (Hovaneissian, Archier, Mathe, Culioli, & Vieillescazes, 2008; Hovaneissian, Archier, Mathe, & Vieillescazes, 2006; Modugno, Ribechini, & Colombini 2006).
The Styrax trees and shrubs originated from regions displaying warm and temperate climates mainly from Southeast Asia (Hovaneissian et al., 2006). Nowadays, the main benzoin producersare the deciduous Styrax tonkinensis (Pierre) Craib ex Hartwich. On one hand, and the evergreen Styrax benzoin Dryander and Styrax paralleloneurum Perkins on the other hand. Styrax tonkinensis was tapped for centuries mainly in Laos and probably also in Thailand to obtain the so called Siam benzoin balsam. S. benzoin and S. paralleloneurum are essentially native to Indonesia (Sumatra and Java) and produce Sumatra benzoin balsam (Fernández, 2004;Supplementary material 1). The generic term ‘benzoin’ either consists in the exudate of one or the other of the two sources or in their mixture (WHO technical report 966, 2011).
Benzoin balsam does not exude naturally from the trunk, but is rather a pathological product resulting from tapping Styrax trees, e.g. cutting multiple superﬁcial incisions through the cambium of these trees (Langenheim, 2003; Pauletti, Teles, Silva, Araújo, & Bolzani, 2006). As excessive tapping often induce the death of the tree, this traditional practice is nowadays well-deﬁned: S. tonkinensis tree may be tapped once a year for about ten years once it is 7 years old, whereas S. benzoin and S. paralleloneurum may be tapped twice a year for about twenty years once they are 8–10 years old (Chagnaud, pers. comm.). After the yellowish exudate hardens upon exposition to air, it is collected by scraping the cut in the trunk (79th JECFA – CTA, 2014; Langenheim, 2003). Once collected, benzoin balsam is cleaned, sorted into four different grades according to the size and the homogeneity of the pieces, and then matured. The production remains nowadays entirely manual, from tapping to packaging (79th JECFA – CTA, 2014).
These three Styrax species are the most signiﬁcant producers of balsam in terms of tonnage per year (Kashio & Johnson, 2001) (Research Gate)
Their nose: sweet, vanilla, balsamic, woody. Sweet, vanilla-like with an almond facet. (TGSC)
My nose: Right within the opening, Benzoin Siam casts a spell that is ambery, balsamic, edible, rich, round and mellow. Soft, sweet and velvety warm. More than the odour of liqueur I instantly associate its colour to Benzoin Siam. It’s carmel, vanilla, deep and thoughtful. A scent tugs at the edges of my memory – I know it will continue to haunt me until I remember, but alas it remains elusive so I relinquish the chase – for now. After 15min the vanilla, caramel profile is in the forefront, and it continues to move in that rich, warm direction, comforting like a slow yawn; soothing and reassuring in it’s quiet rhythm. Receding somewhat, after 30min it keeps its vanilla profile intact. I get a sort of sticky feeling. It’s sensual and serene, very laid back right now. 45min on and yes, the vanilla is still prominent, solitary, creamy, thick and confident. But, wait, I remember now! More than remember, I am gripped by a memory: Root Beer, A&W Root Beer to be exact and with it the other memories coming charging in of summer, sweltering heat and Dad bringing home a red case of various flavoured sodas to quench our thirst from The Pop Shoppe which the four of us kids swarmed on like worker bees to their queen. Really though, where the hell was that memory hiding out until now?! Yes, scent is power stuff, indeed. As Benzoin Siam meanders into the 1hr mark it goes back to being warmer, less bold, more of a pulse now, and yes, the vanilla aspect is still there but slightly toned down, less projection as it becomes an entrancing lullaby. 2hrs later and I find it drier, still warm, much more intimate as it seems to be burying itself deep into the fibres of the scent strip. It is here that I catch how this note could easily become bonded to the one wearing it. Continuing on its journey 3hrs sees this note expanding deep and out, like the roots of vetiver. I get an impression that is slightly dark and meditative and amber – yes, this has something in common with my recent amber tincture which conjures up possible accords to experiment with. Such is the organic nature of fragrance formulation. 7hrs later it is warm but thinner somehow, still comforting and reminiscent of winter, this note is like a big, warm hug. It is the note that encompasses the sense of the Danish term Hygge. Around 10hrs into the dry down Benzoin Siam is a strangely, haunting Gregorian chant of amber, warmth and cosy winter evenings. Round and smooth. A full 24hrs later it hits me again, another memory – vanilla extract and baking in the kitchen with Mum as we bond over flour and eggs and sugar and the sticky, gooey mess of baking. Ahhh! Soft, comforting and still very much alive on the strip though definitely much more subdued. What an unexpected trip this note has been :).
I’d like to share with you some thoughts that popped into my head and interesting things learned while interaction with Benzoin Siam the first being that this is not a “gum” and that in reference to perfumery materials this means soluble in water (like gum Arabic) which this is not so it’s incorrect to call it thus, this is a balsamic resin. The other thing is prior to starting this evaluation I didn’t care too much for the vanilla notes so I had to constantly guard against this prejudice and stay open to its discourse, easier said than done when scent is such a powerful sub-conscious trigger, but that relationship changed as the scent evolved around and through me. Oh, and since I mentioned it, back in December I tinctured a piece of Amber that I bought from a stall at the Christmas market which is maturing in the most scrumptious way, I’ve got that coming up this month.
Well, this was probably my longest post to date. Phew! Thanks for joining me and I hope this helps you on your scented journeys. See you Wednesday when I unfurl organic Bergamot essential oil from White Lotus Aromatics.
Have a beautiful start to your week!