mitti attar: earth's perfume
August 18, 2015 9:08 AM   Subscribe

"Along with their ancient perfumery, the villagers of Kannauj have inherited a remarkable skill: They can capture the scent of rain."

As the Atlantic article explains, that scent -- not to be confused with ozone -- has a name: petrichor (previously).

Coined by scientists [PDF] at Australia's CSIRO, "petrichor" describes the smell that fills the air when raindrops hit dry earth, releasing aerosolized oils from the porous surfaces of rocks, stones, and dirt.

Wish you could bottle up some petrichor and save it for a rainy dry day? Try one of these mass-produced perfumes or invest in a bottle of the genuine article: mitti attar.
posted by divined by radio (43 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
The related, also delightful scent of "pet-ichor" is the smell between the pads on your dog's feet.
posted by grobstein at 9:39 AM on August 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is fascinating.

...but there is a buried lede: 'three thumbed'????
posted by rock swoon has no past at 9:41 AM on August 18, 2015


'three thumbed'????

One extra. Run-of-the-mill unilateral preaxial polydactyly.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:46 AM on August 18, 2015


I tried that Demeter stuff a while back and it was the most instantaneous migraine trigger I have ever encountered, I feel like it violates numerous chemical weapons treaties.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:52 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've noticed that "petrichor" is one of those words that fancy-word fans get especially bonery about. Oh, a word that means "the smell of rain"! How poetic! What a beautiful word! I'd say that it's the idea of the smell of rain that's poetic, not the word. It's a useful word in perfumery, but when you're writing your overwrought novel, it's okay to just say your protagonist's love interest's hair smells like rain.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:21 AM on August 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Petrichode.
posted by symbioid at 10:28 AM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


OK, but can they capture the scent of the beach?
posted by The Tensor at 10:30 AM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


it's okay to just say your protagonist's love interest's hair smells like rain.

What if the hair smells not like rain but like the smell of rain? Petrichor to the rescue!
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:32 AM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


OK, but can they capture the scent of the beach?

Coppertone and regret.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:33 AM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


it's okay to just say your protagonist's love interest's hair smells like rain

Is it though? Why would a person's hair ever smell like that? People who've been out in the rain have hair that smells like wet hair.

The article did mention one rain smell I never realized I've been pining for: Creosote. All the memories of my teenage years in Nova Scotia are bound up with the smell of wet telephone poles and railroad ties. Now I'm stuck in friggin' southern Ontario with its buried cables and safely fenced-off tracks...ugh. The only rain smell I get now is wet dog poo.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:43 AM on August 18, 2015 [11 favorites]


I think "petrichor" is a lovely word in and of itself, and also that it should never be used in any serious sentence besides the one after "did you know there's a word for the smell of rain?"

There are probably exceptions where it would seem natural and apropos, but every other use case I can think of at the moment would inspire me to wonder what you call the smell when dry earth releases aerosolized oils after a self-satisfied aspiring writer has wanked on it.

But on the actual topic: I would buy this in a room air freshener, and creosote even more so.
posted by babelfish at 10:45 AM on August 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


The article did mention one rain smell I never realized I've been pining for: Creosote.

I see what you did thurr
posted by aydeejones at 10:53 AM on August 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


OK, but can they capture the scent of the beach?

I hear Calvin Klein is *very* interested.
posted by gargoyle93 at 10:54 AM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


In some areas in Colorado I see lots of utility poles that have been propped up "redneck style" with additional lumber bolted to them since it's such a pain to replace the whole pole and concrete base. Always made me chuckle because I tried it once on a fence and it worked for a year but was quite half assed.

I had no idea the poles themselves were a contributor to the rain smell. My parents were always like "it's because ions yo."

Speaking of rain and oil and concrete bases holding posts up, I hydroplaned on a small patch of water the other day and ended up ruining my [car's] front end on a sign. I saw the sign, and it opened up my grill and I'm not happy now living without you, my car is, oh so fucked
posted by aydeejones at 10:59 AM on August 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'd love a perfect, idealized beach smell perfume, but in practice the beach smells of seaweed, brine, wet sand, and Coppertone. I love basically any rain smell though. Rain on steaming asphalt, rain in the middle of the city, rain in chaparral, rain in a forest...it all smells great even if it doesn't objectively smell good, if that makes sense.
posted by yasaman at 10:59 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


OK, but can they capture the scent of the beach?

At the Beach 1966 has you covered: "The prime note in this scent is Coppertone 1967 blended with a new accord I created especially for this perfume – North Atlantic. The base of the scent contains a bit of Wet Sand, Seashell, Driftwood and just a hint of Boardwalk."

I have worn this scent, and I liked it. (I bought a small decant from Surrender to Chance.)
posted by purpleclover at 11:00 AM on August 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


Petrichor is kind of a terrifying word! BLOOD OF THE ROCKS.

mitti attar sounds fascinating- I wonder if anyone has tried making something like it in another region of the country, or of the world? Shouldn't it smell completely different, like how honey from different areas tastes like whatever flowers the bees visited?
posted by Secretariat at 11:08 AM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Old Spice Foxcrest deodorant smells exactly like sunscreen and Band-Aids. I doubt that was intentional, but it's so dead on it's eerie. It's the smell of skinning your knees at the beach.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:14 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Creosote, eh? The smell of my childhood is the mosquito fogger truck I would follow on my bike when I was a young'un in Mississippi. Proust can keep his madeleines; aerosolized petroleum with a hint of DDT has that je ne sais quoi for moi.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:19 AM on August 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Johnny Wallflower, they let you go out when the fogger truck was there?

They had a fogger truck at summer camp. They only drove it around when we kids were all shut up in the dining hall. We watched from the windows.

There was no fogger truck at home - we just got bit.

I have no idea what that fogger truck really smells like. In my memory it smells like the creosote of the dining hall walls, overlaid with the steam from boiling canned vegetables.
posted by elizilla at 11:25 AM on August 18, 2015


Sure, it was good, clean fun!
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:40 AM on August 18, 2015


I have worn At the Beach 1966 also, and I note that when I wear it with Life Brand spray on sun screen, I get frequent compliments on how I smell, though not when I wear either by itself.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:47 AM on August 18, 2015


Creosote, those tough pink roses that can deal with salt spray, and rotten fish/sea weed - my favourite smells from my NS childhood.
posted by hydrobatidae at 11:52 AM on August 18, 2015


I've noticed that "petrichor" is one of those words that fancy-word fans get especially bonery about. Oh, a word that means "the smell of rain"! How poetic! What a beautiful word!

You may be running into some overspill from the Doctor Who fandom - "petrichor" was a word used as part of a password to an inner sanctum in the TARDIS in one episode, and I'm sure that episode was where a lot of Whovians first learned that the word even existed.

...Then again, the guy who wrote that particular episode was Neil Gaiman - who, while he is a fabulous writer, does sometimes get super-into fancy words.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:29 PM on August 18, 2015


You may be running into some overspill from the Doctor Who fandom - "petrichor" was a word used as part of a password to an inner sanctum in the TARDIS in one episode, and I'm sure that episode was where a lot of Whovians first learned that the word even existed.

That later Perfume ad with Amy was such a god-damn non-sequitur of a forgotten plot point and it drove me batty. I was sure that it was going to come up later and ...nothing.

Of course, that's very unusual in NuWho.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:36 PM on August 18, 2015


It is a beautiful word, but even in that episode ("The Doctor's Wife," FWIW) Amy can't simply remember the word to pass through, she has to remember the smell itself, which suggests that the scent is more beautiful than the word.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:32 PM on August 18, 2015


I love the smell of creosote railroad ties in the rain... which is probably why I love Lagavulin.

In a sad note for fans of that particular aroma, the old Creomulsion cough syrup plant in my neighborhood was just demolished. After a good bit of resistance from the locals.
posted by rock swoon has no past at 1:53 PM on August 18, 2015


I'd settle for bottling the smell of when you've been out camping in chilly weather, and your hair and clothes are permeated with woodsmoke. I can never get enough of that.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:29 PM on August 18, 2015 [11 favorites]


...Then again, the guy who wrote that particular episode was Neil Gaiman - who, while he is a fabulous writer, does sometimes get super-into fancy words.

I like Gaiman all the more because he doesn't have perfect taste or deep, penetrating insight. I like him because he's a decent writer who likes writing and imagining and clearly works fucking hard at it. He's making an enormous amount out of his generous allocation of talent, with no apparent pretence to genius. That's an incredibly admirable and genuinely likeable thing to do.
posted by howfar at 2:53 PM on August 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


I went straight to eBay and bought some — anyone else?
posted by Wolof at 6:55 PM on August 18, 2015


I'm right behind you, Wolof. But I'm getting all caveat emptor-y. Which vendor should I blindly trust?
posted by peripathetic at 7:04 PM on August 18, 2015


I'll admit I went low on the risk/reward thing, so if it's a disappointment it won't be an expensive one.
posted by Wolof at 7:17 PM on August 18, 2015


I like Gaiman all the more because he doesn't have perfect taste or deep, penetrating insight.

He can get super into fancy words, but the bit in Brief Lives where Dream is remembering talking to his son, Orpheus, after the death of his wife, are perfectly tasteful, and very sparely written, as befits something completely heartbreaking, and completely true.

At times the fact of her absence will hit you like a blow to the chest, and you will weep. But this will happen less and less as time goes on. She is dead. You are alive. So live.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:02 PM on August 18, 2015


Oh, I adore Neil. But I also acknowledge that once in a blue moon he can go a little...Neil on you, and that's when you get the occasional ten-dollar word.

Douglas Adams got that way once in a while too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:25 PM on August 18, 2015


I'm getting all caveat emptor-y. Which vendor should I blindly trust?

In the interest of taking one for the team, I just went here and picked up a pair of 10mL attars -- mitti (earth) and khus (vetiver) -- along with a box of kesar chandan (saffron and sandalwood) dhoop sticks. I'll post an update when they arrive!
posted by divined by radio at 7:43 AM on August 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


FWIW, a lot of indie perfumeries incorporate mitti attar/rain-smell/petrichor into their scents:

Alkemia - Mist Becoming Rain
Sixteen92 - Supercell (LE)
ForStrangeWomen - November in the Temperate Deciduous Forest
Darling Clandestine -Monstre Delicat
Darling Clandestine - Mayfly
Haus of Gloi - Rain (single note)
Alchimia Apothecary - Thunderstorm
Blushie - Rainfall
posted by rachaelfaith at 12:20 PM on August 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I ordered some from White Lotus and (though super expensive) it smells wonderful.
posted by sallybrown at 7:17 PM on August 20, 2015


My dad's family is from within reach of this place. This FPP has brought back the memories of the scents of region - raath ki raani on a hot summer's night is as heady as the smell of the first drops of the monsoon.
posted by infini at 3:12 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


OK, my attars arrived yesterday -- four days from order to delivery, Mumbai to Milwaukee. The quality is fantastic, right down to the jeweled/gilded bottles, and the seller threw in a bunch of little trinkets and free gifts with my order.

Each bottle cost ~$10 and holds more attar than I'd be able to use in a year, even if I wore it daily, and the scent is just as it's described... exactly like parched earth. It's wild! Especially gorgeous layered together with the vetiver, highly recommended.
posted by divined by radio at 8:37 AM on August 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


Thanks for the update, dbr. I'm ordering mine now.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:15 AM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


is it oil base or alcohol base?
posted by poffin boffin at 11:21 AM on August 25, 2015


Oil base, at least for the mitti and khus.
posted by divined by radio at 11:49 AM on August 25, 2015


"OK, but can they capture the scent of the beach?"

The air smells like rotting fish and Solarcaine.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:00 PM on September 16, 2015


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