Friday, April 2, 2010

Perfume Illuminated: Marzipan

Once in a young lifetime one should be allowed to have
as much sweetness as one can possibly want and hold.
~ Judith Olney

Marzipan is the topic for today's illumination of flavor and fragrance. The delicious confection is made of sugar and almond meal with origins in both China and the Arabic world. The Latin word for Marzipan, panis marci,, translates to bread loaf of March. Marzipan is made from mashed sweet almond meal with the addition of a few bitter almond kernels. In some countries the almonds are exchanged for other nuts or fruit pits including peanuts, cashews and apricots. The almond tree is primarily cultivated in the United States. The flowers of the sweet almond tree tend to be white while the flowers of the bitter almond are pink.

The pollination of California's almonds is the largest annual managed pollination event in the world, with close to one million hives (nearly half of all beehives in the USA) being trucked in February to the almond groves. Much of the pollination is managed by pollination brokers, who contract with migratory beekeepers from at least 49 states for the event. 1

As I was researching almonds on the internet I discovered a rather alarming bit of news. In California, due to two supposed incidents of Salmonella, all almonds labeled as "raw" must have undergone steam-pasteurized or chemically treated with propylene oxide. A Wisconsin based group called The Cornucopia Institute is fighting this legislation since it presents a significant burden to small scale organic farmers. 2 I find this disturbing for two reasons:
  1. The word "raw" obviously does not mean "raw" since the almonds may have been treated with propylene oxide.
  2. I support small indie organic farmers and rather despise how big conglomerates and corporations continue to cause problems in this arena.


The main flavor ingredient in marzipan is bitter almond which also exists as an essential oil. In aromatherapy circles this essence is frowned upon due to a "potential" toxic affect. Bitter almond essential oil, Prunus amygdalus var. amara, is almost entirely made of the natural, organic chemical constituent benzaldehyde. In main stream perfumery the natural material is substituted for the synthetic version which goes by benzaldehyde.

The almond is part of the Prunus family like plums, apricots, and peaches. A true essential oil of bitter almond is very difficult to find, most of "bitter almond" essential oil on the market is the refined synthetic benzaldehyde or from the kernels of apricots or plums.

Although we think of almonds as nuts they are actually seeds, this morphological characteristic has to do with creativity, growth and reproduction. This makes sense when you think of how much an almond resembles the seed of it's sibling the apricot. Perhaps this is also why almonds are alkaline and not acidic like nuts.

Since the bitter almond essential oil available is not authentic and is considered toxic in aromatherapy circles I'd love to suggest an alternate material as a substitute but I have not yet found one. I do notice a "marzipan" note in the trial edition of the fragrance I created for Alice in Wonderland titled Smell me. The aroma is the result of a synergy between Vetiver, Cedarwood, Butter, Rose and Citrus.

For our project today I will suggest the use of sweet almond oil, Prunus amygdalae var. dulcis, a monounsaturated oil used in aromatherapy blends. This carrier oil is very emollient and excellent for massage. Sweet almond oil is pale yellow in color with very subtle aroma.

For aromatherapy blends and massage oil we combine a total of 8 to 10 drops of essential oil in with half ounce of sweet almond oil. Thus, to create a relaxing blend for bedtime add 5 drops of Lavender essential oil, 3 drops of Roman Chamomile essential oil and 2 drops of Tangerine to half an ounce of sweet almond oil. Use this blend for a full body massage or localized massage, like for the feet, neck or chest.

FLAVOR: Beth Schreibman Gehring
Please continue reading about Marzipan at the Windesphere Witch blog

1 Wikipedia
2 Wikipedia, Almonds, Mandatory pasteurization in California

Szamos Marcipán, Marzipant from MyGastonomy
Gathering Almond Blossoms by John Waterhouse
Old engravings of Nose and Mouth placed onto parchment by Roxana Villa

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