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A Guide to Spices in Perfumery

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A Guide to Spices in Perfumery

Spice is a broad term that gets thrown around A LOT in the perfume world. “Oh, that’s nice and spicy!” or “Oh, that spice really warms the whole thing up!” are things you might hear your resident fragrance-head rambling about — but what does any of that mean? What is spice in perfume?

To put it simply, spice is an umbrella term used to describe the olfactory experience induced by a number of, you guessed it, spices. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at the different kinds of spice, some common examples of spices used in perfumery, the feelings they induce, and the character they add to the composition as a whole. 

Different Kinds of Spice

When talking about spices in perfume, there are two main kinds of spice that you’ll encounter: fresh spicy and warm spicy. 

Now, that’s not to say there aren’t others floating around — things like dark spicy and musky spice definitely have a place in the perfume world. They’re just a lot less common, and, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll focus on these two main spice groups, as most spicy fragrances belong in one of the two categories. 

Fresh Spicy

Fresh spicy is a term used to describe fragrances with a lighter spice — spicy more in a sharp, poignant way rather than spicy in a “heat you up” kind of way.

Fresh spice is amazing in spring, summer, and warmer fall days. Fresh spice also works really well in gym fragrances, office scents, and daytime colognes. It’s a more uplifting, zingy spice, and isn’t too terribly heavy. 

This makes fresh spices very versatile. Depending on the rest of the blend, they can be used in scents ranging from beach vacation to office-professional. They’re a jack-of-all-trades that can invoke a ton of different feelings and character elements. 

Let’s take a look at some of the notes that fit into this category. Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover:

  • Cardamom
  • Coriander
  • Pink Pepper
  • Juniper
  • Ginger
  • Timut Pepper


As you can see, there are a lot. Let’s dive in.


The first fresh spicy note on our list is cardamom. Cardamom is a botanical plant from the same family as ginger and turmeric. It grows in the damp woods of countries like Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and places in South America. 

Cardamom is a fairly zingy and smooth fresh spice. Cardamom also smells fairly sweet, which adds a classy yet youthful feel. 

Some men’s fragrances containing cardamom include: 

  • YSL La Nuit De L’Homme
  • Dior Homme Original
  • Declaration by Cartier
  • Voyage by Hermès


Coriander is an herbaceous plant native to the Middle East, and is now cultivated in Europe and Russia. It’s a grass with fine foliage, large round fruits, and small flowers. 

Coriander can be traced back throughout history: traces were found in the tombs of the Pharoahs of ancient Egypt, and in the Middle Ages, it was used to ward off demons. 

Now, it’s commonly used in cuisine and, you guessed it, perfumery. 

Coriander’s aroma is best categorized as a soft, sweet spiciness, with nuances of pepper, citrus, and wood. Coriander also smells differently depending on the part of the plan — the leaves have a slight anis-seed smell, while the roots are more orangey and woody smelling. Coriander, whatever the part, smells fresh and slightly warm. 

Some men’s fragrances containing coriander include: 

  • By Kilian Vodka on the Rocks
  • F by Salvatore Ferregamo
  • Heritage by Guerlain

Pink Pepper

Pink pepper originates in South America. While not technically a peppercorn (they’re dried berries from the Brazilian pepper tree), they nonetheless exude a fresh, peppery aroma. Pink pepper is typically used in the opening of a fragrance for lift and added brightness. 

Pink pepper also blends very well with citrus notes, helping counteract citrus’ fresh airiness with a spicy sharpness. 

Some men’s fragrances containing pink pepper include: 

  • Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb
  • Creed Viking
  • Givenchy Gentlemen Only
  • Giorgio Armani Sable Nuit


Juniper is a bush that grows pretty much anywhere — it has prickly needles, and small red berries, Juniper berries. Commonly used as a distillate in spirits like gin, Juniper is a versatile and surpassignly lovely fresh spicy note. 

It plays very well with floral notes and warmer spicy notes, including things like tobacco, nutmeg, and woods.

Juniper smells like spicy pine, with a hint of pepper. Juniper is very reminiscent of christmas trees and gin, and adds a fresh spicy, resinous scent in perfumery.

Some men’s fragrances containing juniper include: 

  • Versace’s The Dreamer
  • Yves Saint Laurent Y EDP
  • Creed Original Santal
  • Amouge Journey Man


When we say ginger, we’re talking about the rhizome of the ginger plant. A powerful aphrodisiac and extraordinary perfume note, the best way to describe the way ginger smells is zingy. 

The way that ginger smells really depends on the kind of blend it’s included in. Sometimes it can smell soapy, sometimes citrusy, and sometimes even slightly woody. But it always remains spicy, fresh, and eternally uplifting. Ginger really has the power to bring a composition together and take it to another level. 

Some men’s fragrances containing ginger include:

  • Yves Saint Laurent L’Homme
  • L’Eau Diptyque
  • Hugo Boss The Scent
  • Dolce and Gabanna The One
  • Burberry Brit

Timut Pepper

Timut pepper is an airy, super fresh spicy note that is sometimes reminiscent of a spicier, less sharp grapefruit smell. Another false pepper, coming from Nepal, timut pepper is great for opening up a fragrance, and making it seem more airy.

Some men’s fragrances containing timut pepper include:

  • Atelier Oblique Lightfalls
  • Faberlic Blockbuster
  • Terre d’Hermes Eau Givree Hermès

Warm Spicy

Warm spicy is a broad term used to describe a certain type of spice — the kind that smells cozy, warm, and mixes beautiful with a cold, snowy day.

This means that warm spicy colognes are excellent for fall and winter time, as well as date nights and cozy days. Warm spices are heavier than fresh spices, making them less versatile. They aren’t as great for gym fragrances, or in the spring or summer. This is because, when they heat up they can become more pungent, heavy, and sometimes even cloying. This isn’t a know on them — they’re excellent in their own right, just less versatile. 

Let’s take a look at some of the spices in this category. We’ll be looking at:

  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Cloves
  • Vanilla
  • Saffron

Let’s get into it. 


Cinnamon is pretty much the epitome of warm spice — it literally warms you up when you smell it. We all know what cinnamon smells like. It’s spicy and warm, and heavy enough to feel extremely cozy. It’s also powdery, and less overbearing than some other warm spices. This makes it relatively versatile as well.

Cinnamon is a bark; aside from the obvious spiciness, cinnamon can also add a woody element to a fragrance. It’s very sensual, and a great close-range note. 

Some men’s fragrances with cinnamon include:

  • Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb
  • Yves Saint Laurent Opium
  • Burberry London 
  • Jean Paul Gaultier Ultra Male


Nutmeg is another warm spicy note commonly used in perfumery. Nutmeg, similar to cinnamon, invoke a cozy feeling reminiscent of Christmas time. The nut of the nutmeg tree, it was commonly used in the 12th century to perfume wines and beer. 

Now it’s more commonly used to perfume people, with a plethora of fragrances utilizing this lovely note for a rash of fall and winter fragrances. 

In addition to the spiciness, nutmeg can also emit a woody, leathery aroma that is soft and intimate. Nutmeg plays really well with other warm spicy notes, like cinnamon, as well as tobacco and woods.

Some men’s fragrances with nutmeg include:

  • Dior Sauvage Elixir
  • Chanel Pour Monsieur EDP
  • By Kilian Intoxicated
  • Wild Elixir Nuancielo


Cloves are a warm spicy note. Commonly used in cooking and baking, they’re the bud of a tree in the Myrtaceae family. They’re also amazing in perfumes, with a cozy vibe that instantly warms up any composition it’s included in. 

Cloves smell incredible when mixed with other notes like cinnamon, nutmeg, rose, tobacco, patchouli, and woods. 

Some fragrances with cloves include:

  • Musc Ravageur Frederic Malle
  • Amouge Bracken Man
  • Rousse Serge Lutens
  • Woods of Windsor Men


Vanilla is a sweet spicy note that is ever popular in perfumery. It exudes a soft sort of enveloping aroma with a cozy warm cookie feel to it. It’s comforting, smooth, and a little exotic. 

Vanilla is often used in warm spicy fragrances, as well as gourmand scents. Gourmand is a category of fragrances blended to smell like desserts. 

Vanilla blends really well with nutmeg, cedar, amber, sandalwood, cacao, and more to create a smooth, warm scent.

Some men’s fragrances with vanilla include:

  • Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb Extreme
  • Versace Eros
  • Valentino Uomo Intense
  • Ultra Male Jean Paul Gaultier
  • Tobacco Vanille Tom Ford


Saffron smells quite different. The most expensive spice in the world, its spicy and extremely exotic. Saffron is found in a variety of crocuses, and is used as a spice when making the Spanish rice dish paella. 

Leathery and spicy, saffron is a very strong note. It is commonly found in Middle Eastern fragrances and in compositions with oud wood. Saffron comes from the same family as the iris, and they do have similarities, mainly their intimacy and suave softness. 

Some fragrances with saffron include:

  • Baccarat Rouge 540 Maison Francis Kurkdjian
  • Haltane Parfums de Marly
  • Safran De La Mancha Spring
  • Liquid Gold Euphoria Men Calvin Klein

Wrapping Up

There you have it; some of the most commonly used spices in perfumery. Whether you’re shopping for a new signature scent or just curious, we hope this guide helped you understand a little bit more about spices in perfumery. 


Thanks for reading!


Isaac Marks

Isaac Marks

Isaac is a fragrance expert from Chicago, Illinois, specializing in smelling good at all times. When he isn't sniffing things, Isaac likes to read, write, run, bake, and play the guitar.

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Jack Harbor

Full Time Fragranista

Jack Harbor is an expert in all things scent – from wearing, to mixing, to making perfumes, his expertise is varied and robust. He loves to smell good, and loves helping other’s smell good – for the good of us all!

Jack Harbor

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