Coumarin is an organic compound that belongs to the benzopyrone family. It is found in various plants, including tonka beans, sweet clover, and cassia cinnamon. Coumarin can be best smelled in Tonka beans, where the molecule makes up more then half of the molecules and dominates the scent of tonka beans. In the perfume pyramid it belongs to the base notes.
The beans are native to South America and are used in perfumery, high-end cuisines, and medicinal applications. Coumarin has a sweet, vanilla-like aroma, which makes it a popular ingredient. It belongs to the olfactive family of gourmand notes.
Coumarin was first isolated in 1820 from the tonka bean by the French pharmacist and chemist, Guillaume Dupuytren. This is quite early considering that chemistry was still a very young science at that time. Coumarin has various properties that make it a useful ingredient in perfumery. It has a low volatility, which means that it evaporates slowly, allowing the fragrance to last longer on the skin. Coumarin is also a fixative, which means that it helps to stabilize other volatile ingredients in the perfume and prevent them from evaporating too quickly.
Coumarin has a long and fascinating history. It was not until the 1860s that its sweet aroma was recognized and its use in perfumery began. Coumarin became popular in the late 19th century, when it was used in fragrances such as Fougere Royale, which was created by the perfumer Houbigant in 1882. Fougere Royale is considered to be the first modern perfume, and it marked the beginning of a new era in perfumery.
During the early 20th century, coumarin became an essential ingredient in perfumes, particularly in the creation of oriental and amber fragrances. It was used in fragrances such as Shalimar by Guerlain, which was launched in 1925, and Tabu by Dana, which was launched in 1932. These fragrances were hugely popular and helped to establish coumarin as a key ingredient in perfumery.
However, the use of coumarin in perfumes declined in the 1950s due to safety concerns. Coumarin was found to be toxic to the liver in animals, and it was banned as a food additive in many countries. In the United States, the use of coumarin in food was banned in 1954. This led to a decline in the use of coumarin in perfumes, as perfume manufacturers were concerned about the safety of their products. However, in Europe, Coumarin is still used in haute cuisine. And as of today, safety evaluations of the use of coumarin in perfumes led to the conclusion that it is save to use in perfumes if certain levels of concentration are not exceeded. Thus, coumarin still plays an important role in perfumery today, which is great, as its scent is very pleasing.