My snack personality has always veered towards the salty: chips and dip, cheese and crackers, those flat, brown discs that are the best part of Gardetto’s Snack Mix, that kind of thing. But, when it came to fragrances, I always went for the sweet stuff. Gourmand perfumes have been my thing ever since I was teen, ritualistically spraying Juice Bar’s Cotton Candy body mist all over my JNCOs before heading to an all-night rave. Little did I know that my gourmand perfume preferences would continue throughout my adult life. One of my perfume cornerstones was Jessica Simpson’s Deliciously Kissable “Creamy” Fragrance, which was from her aughts-era edible beauty line Dessert Beauty (which I found on eBay after writing about it on Racked in 2018). Another was my beloved Aquolina Pink Sugar (which I also rebought just a few months ago). Of course, there were dalliances with other sweet-smelling perfumes, like Harajuku Lovers G by Gwen Stefani, Tokyo Milk Let Them Eat Cake, and Whipped Cream from Eau De Vie, a forgotten line of gourmand-inspired fragrances that was sold exclusively by Sephora in the 2000s.
Over the years, friends who had similar fragrance preferences to mine would graduate to more “sophisticated” scents. Yet, I never felt the pressure to do the same, even as I got into my 30s, then my 40s, and even when other people, including a famous French perfumer I interviewed, deemed gourmand fragrances to be tacky. (First of all, I love tacky. Secondly, I do what I want!) But in recent years, I’ve noticed more people proudly proclaiming their love for gourmands, especially on TikTok, where the hashtag “gourmandperfume” has 22.9M views and sweet-smelling perfumes like Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Baccarat Rouge 540 have gone viral. When you consider the olfactory differences between Baccarat Rouge 540 and Le Labo’s Santal 33, the smoky wood fragrance that gained cult status a decade ago, it might be a sign that smelling like a delicious cake or cotton candy isn’t gauche after all. Gourmand perfumes might finally be getting their time in the spotlight.
Elena Vosnaki, author and senior editor at Fragrantica.com and founder of Perfumeshrine.com, says that gourmands have currently taken over the market, alongside fragrances with Middle-Eastern ingredients, such as oudh (though she says that’s more popular in niche fragrances). “For the designer and mainstream segments, gourmands are reigning right now,” says Vosnaki, and she has a few theories why. “There are several factors contributing to that: the pandemic, which made us all seek solace and comfort, the war in Europe which created a throwback to tried and tested solutions for the market, plus the companies that have been steadily producing and launching gourmand fragrances for the past 10-15 years,” she explains.
Perfumer Marissa Zappas echoes the fact that most commercial perfumes released in the past decade are technically gourmands, even if they aren’t necessarily marketed that way. “In general, perfumes are much, much sweeter than they were 20 years ago,” she says. But even though gourmands are more common, there’s always been stigma attached to them. Zappas recalls working as a shop girl at Annick Goutal, where women would walk in and loudly announce they ‘hate sweet’ and ‘don’t want anything remotely sweet,’ but walk out of the store with the sweetest perfume they had. “It’s hard for people to ultimately walk away from what they truly want. Strong aversions to sweet perfumes always feel a little misogynist to me for some reason, also a lot of cheaper perfumes are sweeter,” she says. “Humans crave sugar, fat, and salt.”
The concept of experiencing dessert in ways in which you can’t actually eat them goes beyond wearing traditional perfumes. Take for instance Bath and Body Works, which is famous for its dessert-scented hand soaps, body lotions, and candles as it is for the body mists that many had as their junior high signature scent. “The gourmand category is an important part of our fragrance portfolio and we are always mining for the next fragrance to satisfy our customers’ sweet tooth,” explains Noelle Marois, Associate Vice President of Product and Fragrance Development at Bath & Body Works. “The food and beverage industries are ever-changing, so we love to look to the flavor trends on menus, festivals, or even local grocery stores for fragrance inspiration to identify the next idea.” For its newest holiday scent, Fa La La Latte, the brand found inspiration from the cookie butter trend, adding hints of espresso and sweet vanilla foam.
The personal care brand Native is known for its creatively-scented deodorants and body care products, including holiday-themed deodorants like Sugar Cookie and Spiked Egg Nog. “Gourmand fragrances are inspired by edible notes like coconut, vanilla, coffee notes, chocolate, honey, desserts, and tropical fruits. And these notes really deliver comfort, balance, and trust,” explains Natalia Lebedev, Native’s Chief Fragrance Officer. “It could be a nostalgic feeling for some, while it could represent a feeling of hope for others. But now more than ever consumers are looking for something that can provide that comforting experience.”
As fashion and beauty trends from the past tend to come back again, so can fragrances like gourmands. Vosnaki also believes people like these types of scents because they find them comforting and familiar. “The rich tastes of desserts are something that relaxes and makes you feel good about something you know and trust,” she says. She doesn’t believe gourmands attract a particular person, but points out that they’re typically geared more towards younger women, like millennials and Gen Z, because they came on board after a certain period in time. “Previous generations were brought up in older style perfumes—oriental, spicy, heavily floral or chypre—so they’re accustomed to them and they don’t feel odd. Whereas for younger women the flavor of caramel is more familiar than say the one of oak moss, which is a very characteristic scent in older, vintage chypre perfumes.”
The attention to gourmand scents could be due to the culmination of several factors: Gen Z popularizing the scents on TikTok, a general mass desire for nostalgia and comfort, and maybe just the simple idea of people liking what they like, even if it might not be “cool.” Zappas says that gourmands aren’t necessarily considered edgy, and are actually more childlike. “There’s a theory about vanilla undertones occuring in breast milk—which could explain why a lot of younger people tend to pick gourmands as a first perfume. Then, once their taste evolves and they grow up, they might reach for a more complex scent category, although vanillin smells can certainly be complex,” she says. “Gourmands are for people who maybe want to smell edible.” Indeed, we do. Inspired to try one (or a few) of the absolute best gourmand beauty products out there? Keep scrolling!