– Mentioned more than twenty times in the Bible as one of the gifts offered by the Three Wise Men, Queen of Sheba’s perfume is considered to be one of the world’s oldest fragrances. But what did this substance contain and how was it produced?
Researchers have now unraveled this old mystery and discovered the components that give frankincense its distinctive odor. Among them we find two mysterious molecules – named “olibanic acids” by the scientists.
Nicolas Baldovini’s team at the Institut de chimie de Nice (CNRS/UNS) which specializes in fragrances, have confirmed that one of the world’s oldest fragrances, is a gum resin that exudes from the bark of Boswellia trees, which grow in countries bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
It has been used for more than 6,000 years by every civilization, from Mesopotamia to the present.
Regularly burned during religious ceremonies, it contributes to the very particular smell of churches. Despite its long history and the large amount of research dedicated to it, the exact nature of the molecules that give frankincense its distinctive fragrance surprisingly remained unknown.
Baldovini and his colleagues painstakingly broke down the essential oil of frankincense into its constituent parts through a multistep process of extraction and distillation. They used human sniff testers to determine which fractions of frankincense were responsible for its smell.”
Baldovini found it a little surprising that previously unknown molecules explained frankincense’s distinctive smell.
“As for many natural aromatic raw materials, the nature of its key odorants was still poorly understood,” Baldovini said, adding that he had personal reasons to want to study frankincense. “I really love its odor,” he said.
So if you want transport you back in time and smell like the Queen of Sheba, we can tell you that thanks to this discovery, perfume makers can now produce these molecules artificially in unlimited amounts, and use them in different perfumes.