per os / per nasum

It began with this bit and the rumour about vanilla.

Screwpine (Pandanus amaryllifolius)

In the West we forget the close relationship between perfume and flavourings. Odd to think that Parisian perfumiers once put it about that vanilla was poisonous to halt its increasing use by pastrycooks. Pandanus or screwpine species provide scented flowers for kewra essence to flavour syrupy Indian desserts, and scented leaves for cookery, for medicine and for religious offerings.

From Jane Grigson (illustrated by Charlotte Knox)
Exotic Fruits and Vegetables (London: Jonathan Cape, 1986)

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Since there was no source for the rumour, I consulted Patricia Rain, Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World’s Most Popular Flavor and Fragrance and found no confirmation but lots of circumstantial corroboration.

p. 162

Popular as these modern fragrances were, they were not yet within the reach of working class women or women living in rural America. Instead, these women relied on the bottle of vanilla extract, which they dabbed behind their ears or on their wrists, and sprinkled on their handkerchiefs. It wasn’t until much later in the century that affordable vanilla fragrances were available to everyone.

p. 161
[I]t wasn’t until 1925 when Guerlain launched Shalimar that vanilla emerged as a dominant aroma in perfumery. Shalimar was the first perfume to contain vanillin ethyl, an artificial molecule smelling like vanilla and marked by an overwhelming intensity. It remains the epitome of the oriental profile. [often referred to in the trade as “oriental” are fragrances incorporating vanilla as a predominant, secondary or base note]

p. 62-63

The French also expanded the use of vanilla into the perfume industry. By the late 1700s, perfumes were commonplace, and what would be more delightful than to use vanilla to soften the strong nuances of Oriental spices and highlight the sweetness of delicate herbs and flowers?


Handkerchiefs were perfumed with fragrances to refresh the nose. Even French tobacco and snuff were fragranced with the compelling aroma of vanilla.

p. 31

In 1502, Spanish soldiers from Cuba obtained some vanilla from coastal Indians and sent it to Spain along with indigo and cochineal dyes. As the Spaniards’ contact with the coastal tribes was limited, and as they didn’t speak the native languages, vanilla’s use was unknown. They thought it was a perfume.

p. 123-124

The [Totonac] families who either dried their own vanilla or who worked in the casas de beneficio used the vanilla oil that ran off during the first stages of curing and drying to rub on their skin or to add shine to their hair. The vanilla was also used as an air freshener and a perfume for clothing. Dried beans were trucked into hatbands along with flowers and feathers. And a vanilla-flavored aguardiente was always prepared for baptisms, weddings, and the significant family events.

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Intrigued by the economics, I found a useful comparison of bean and extract in Chatelaine.

Why we love them:
Vanilla beans are the most pure form of vanilla and the small seeds are loaded with flavour and add visual interest to dishes. Plus, once you’ve scraped out the seeds, you can use the pod for infusing sugar or spirits.

Why we love it:
This budget-friendly solution is perfect for adding to cookies and cakes where the vanilla is more subtle and used to enhance overall flavour.

And then there’s that heavenly combo: vanilla ice-cream and espresso: affogato. Poisonous, simply poisonous.

And so for day 2562

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