Every year, Symrise works on hundreds of fragrance combinations for perfumes, shampoos, household cleaners and detergents. A significant number of these are patented fragrance components, which are referred to as captives. These new compounds, which can come from the by-products of other industries, have always needed to be unmistakable in their scent, renewable and sustainable – and ideally should also be biodegradable. But more importantly, they need to be strong enough to leave their mark on a composition even in the smallest dosage. In this way, they protect the entire fragrance composition and ensure the business success of Symrise over the long term.


Anyone involved in the perfume industry will have heard of the “Pacollection” by Spanish fashion designer Paco Rabanne and, in particular, the unisex fragrance “Crazy Me,” which smells like mimosa and wasabi, the Japanese horseradish. The fragrance was developed by Symrise Senior Perfumer Aliénor Massenet, who intentionally built the wasabi note around the Spicatanate® compound. As odd as it may sound, the scent in its pure form is reminiscent not only of spearmint (Mentha spicata L., which is where the name comes from), but also of garlic and onion. But that is precisely what makes it so strong. Combined with other substances, it provides compositions with depth, freshness and fruitiness – and, in this case, the spiciness of wasabi. Spicatanate® also has an extraordinary origin story. The compound was developed using by-products of the orange juice industry – more specifically, the peel of the fruit. Despite a concentration of just 0.001 % in the perfume oil, it still manages to make quite a statement.

Compounds like Spicatanate® are referred to as captives in the technical world and are extremely im­portant to Symrise. “Most of the fragrance ingredients we sell to our customers in our formulations are commodity products. The components are no secret. Anyone could use them and purchase the compounds on the market or even produce them themself,” Sarah Maria Kollenberg explains. Captives, on the other hand, are fragrance ingredients developed and patented by Symrise, which means Symrise is the only company that can use them for a period of 20 years. “Perfumes that we develop entirely in-house are protected if they contain a note based on a captive that is specific to Symrise and cannot simply be recreated with other combinations,” Sarah Maria Kollenberg, Director New Ingredients Management, says. She oversees and optimizes the processes and promotes valuation of the compounds in the Group.

Some of the captives are exceptionally efficient and used in the per mill range to enhance scents, while others may serve as a filler to add volume and account for 10 % to 20 % of the mix. Unlike essential oils sourced from nature, captives are pure substances that are, wherever possible, derived from the by-products of other industries using complex processes based on the principles of green chemistry. Spicatanate®, for example, comes from D-limonene, a waste product of orange juice production. Pearadise®, which smells like pear, was developed from the by-products of corn fermentation. And raw sulfate turpentine oil, which occurs as a natural component of pine during the paper production process, is the base material for a new Symrise compound nearly at the end of its development stage. With its resinous, herbal and green scent, it adds another facet to the Symrise portfolio of sustainable captives.

Captives are developed on a variety of foundations that are traditional at Symrise. “Just as it was at the beginning of our company history, it’s often an issue of identifying alternatives to expensive or rare ingredients,” Dr. Nikolaus Bugdahn says, referring to the development of vanillin, which has acquainted many people with the flavor of vanilla for the first time. Research is also inspired by the technologies used by Symrise, Dr. Bugdahn adds. He oversees the synthesis labs in which captives are produced. “In Jacksonville, for example, we use by-products from the paper industry, in which we find components that are attractive to perfumers,” adds head of the lab Dr. Philip Kraft, referencing aspects of the circular economy. In this way, seemingly worthless waste can be transformed into valuable products. Captives can also spark trends in the perfumery sector by replacing nonbiodegradable or nonrenewable fragrance ingredients, offering another form of motivation.

“In Jacksonville, for example, we use by-products from the paper industry, in which we find components that are attractive to perfumers.”

Dr. Philip Kraft
Lab head

Dr. Nikolas Bugdahn leads the synthesis laboratories at Symrise, where the captives are created.

That requires a great deal of work. Development takes at least three years when things move quickly, but can even take up to six or seven. It always begins at the synthesis lab, where chemists synthesize several hundred compounds and evaluate them with the perfumers. “With our structured process, we can develop three or four new compounds a year,” says head of the lab Dr. Franziska Elterlein. While that does not sound like much at first, captives are used in hundreds or even thousands of formulas, from shampoo and detergent to fine fragrances.

“Synthesis is a complex process and generally takes a while to get up and running.”

Dr. Franziska Elterlein
Lab head

“We plan our research, read patent information and consider together which chemical structures make sense,” explains Philip Kraft, who has more than 25 years of experience in research and development. “And we also have to keep an eye on costs at all times. Synthesis is a complex process and generally takes a while to get up and running.” What is more, the design process can be full of surprises. “There’s no way to know exactly what a substance will smell like before synthesis, which is why coming up with new ideas is a process of trial and error,” Franziska Elterlein adds. The development process is often dependent on the form of collaboration in the Group. “For example, we have our colleagues in analytics examine the compounds,” Philip Kraft says. Certain secondary components are responsible for the primary scent because their thresholds are lower than those of the primary components. The substances therefore need to be exhaustively and precisely analyzed to ensure the right compound is patented.

The team evaluates the molecules in an olfactory analysis.

“Our strategic goal is to protect our products with the captives.”

Sarah Maria Kollenberg
Director New Ingredients Management

Once they have passed all of the tests, the compounds are introduced to the various business units in order to determine whether they should be launched as captives or specialties. The patent process takes place at the same time. Also interesting is the fact that not every substance developed is incorporated into the portfolio as a captive. “For some of them, we or the business units might not see a current need,” says Nikolas Bugdahn. Many success stories are only written later. For example, the Lilybelle® compound – which, like Spicatanate®, is derived from D-limonene – was stored in the archive for several decades. “Employees developed it nearly 40 years ago, but didn’t follow up on it because it’s based on a five-stage synthesis process,” Philip Kraft explains. “Back then, that wasn’t feasible.” But today it is, and Symrise successfully sells the compound with the floral lily of the valley note as a specialty used in both simple household cleaners and high-end perfumes.

Though complex, the processes are well worthwhile, as demonstrated by the fact that Symrise continues to increase the number of captives and their applications. Used as a “Symrise Signature” in 7 % of all formulations in early 2018, they can now be found in more than 50 %. “Our strategic goal is to protect our products with the captives,” Sarah Maria Kollenberg says. “Our synthesis labs and the New Ingredients Management team are working tirelessly to achieve it.”

Once identified, the compound is subjected to a smell test first as a pure substance in a dilution of 10 % and then in applications such as fragrance blends and creams. “Of course, we stop developing the compounds that are too weak or even unpleasant in the composition,” Nikolas Bugdahn says. Following olfactory valuation, a price estimation is provided to determine which cost-benefit ratio would make it effective to use the fragrance ingredient in a composition. The fragrance ingredients are also assessed to determine the level of renewability and biodegradability. The perfumers in the Group assume a key role just before the process is completed, when there are only around 20 compounds left out of the hundreds initially developed. In addition to the experts in Holzminden, some of whom are already involved, the captives are then sent to 15 perfumers around the world, from Singapore and São Paulo to New York and Paris. “This also includes applications in fragrance blends and different dosages,” Sarah Maria Kollenberg explains.

Toxicologists then carefully examine the substances favored by the global team of perfumers to identify any potential negative effects on people or nature that were not considered during development of the compounds. A whole host of tests are conducted to collect data about the substance and its effects in order to complete registration in different countries and regions on the basis of high standards. And at the very end, the team and production staff get together to consider how to produce the captive on a large scale. “Not even that is easy because many substances have different olfactory results in mass production, for example,” Philip Kraft says.

Sarah Maria Kollenberg supervises the process as Director New Ingredients Management.