Understanding Aldehydes and Their Scents

Picture of Terpene Belt Farms
Terpene Belt Farms


The Aldehydes Chemical Breakdown

The terpenes contained in cannabis essential oil bask in the limelight, while the less common aromatic compounds are overlooked. Unfortunately, this is because the world of cannabis research has only scratched the surface in studying them.

The fact is that cannabis essential oil is composed of hundreds of compounds that together when combined with their cannabinoid friends, create the full “entourage effect” of a particular variety.

So, we are going to focus on a lesser known essential oil constituent: aldehydes.

Even when they don’t smell good on their own, aldehydes “lift” scents up. They make scents softer and more alive. Aldehydes are reactive, organic compounds that are double bonds between oxygen atoms and carbon atoms. They have pronounced smells ranging from pleasant and sweet to pungent and nauseating.

While aldehydes are naturally occurring in many organic materials (think rose, vanilla and orange rind), scientists also can create them synthetically for perfumes and colognes.

A History in Perfumery Starting in the 1900s

Scentspiracy tells a great story on aldehyde history that we’ll summarize here.

Aldehydes were rarely used in their early days. They had one simple purpose of stabilizing formulas.

An audacious perfumer, Robert Bienaimé, changed this when he created the “Quelques fleurs fragrance” in 1912 for the Houbigant house (one of the oldest French fragrance companies), which was an aldehyde led formula. This new and modernized fragrance influenced other perfumers, particularly Ernest Beaux, who created Chanel No. 5 in 1921. Quickly, aldehydes were used in many great perfumes throughout the following decades.

Smelling Aldehydes

There are two main categories of aldehydes: aromatic and aliphatic.

Aromatic Aldehydes Breakdown

Aliphatic Aldehydes

Aromatic aldehydes are organic molecules having the –CHO functional group attached to an aromatic group. Aliphatic aldehydes are organic compounds which have no aromatic rings attached to the aldehyde group.

Aliphatic aldehydes are classified based on the number of carbon atoms they contain.

In Scentspiracy’s study of Aldehydes C6 through C12, you can see that each of them smell differently.

  • ​​Aldehyde c6 — Fat, ebaceous green. Rancid butter. It easily oxidizes in contact with air in Caproic acid, responsible for the smell of rancid.
  • Aldehyde c7 — Oily, fat, rancid, fermented fruit.
  • Aldehyde c8 — Powerful, scratchy, orange-like fat. It oxidizes to Caprylic Acid within 24 hours.
  • Aldehyde c9 — Fat, floral and waxy. In floral and rosy dilution, fresh as neroli.
  • Aldehyde c10 — Penetrating, sweet and waxy. Evident note of orange peel.
  • Aldehyde c11 (saturated) — Pleasant waxy floral, contains a fruity note of moderate tenacity.
  • Aldehyde c11 (unsaturated) — Powerful, slightly waxy, pink citrus smell. The smell could be classified as a standard of the term “aldeidic.”
  • Aldehyde c12 Lauric — Sweet, waxy-herbetic smell, very fresh and clean-floral with a faint balsamic undertone. The smell is often referred to as the “smell of fresh laundry,” but it’s only pleasant in extreme dilutions. The concentrated material has a rather fatty-concerous smell.
  • Aldehyde c12 MNA — Sapy, floral, metallic, clean smell, pine note.

Stay tuned as we continue to learn more aldehydes and how they interact with terpenes to create unique scents and effects.

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