Olfactory Chemistry: Aldehyde C-16- The UN-Aldehyde

One of the joys of living in farm country is waiting for late May and the start of strawberry picking. It is the beginning of what will be months of going and picking fresh fruit right off the tree or vine. Strawberry is also one of the most common fragrance components in all kind of products from perfumes to bath products. The great majority of the time when you smell strawberry in a product what you smell is the aromachemical called Aldehyde C-16.

aldehyde c-16

From a chemist’s perspective that name is very much a misnomer as Aldehyde C-16 is not an aldehyde. It does not contain 16 carbons as the C-16 might lead you to believe. As shown in the figure above the closest aromachemical relative to Aldehyde C-16 which is actually an aldehyde is Cinnamaldehyde. When I wrote about peach lactone in an earlier installment which is also not an aldehyde I had no clue where these names came from because they make zero sense to a chemist.

What I have been told by a couple of people from the industry is these groups of faux aldehydes were given the name of aldehyde to keep their structure hidden a little while longer. When a company develops a new aromachemical if they just gave it the correct chemical name another chemist could use it as a starting point to make a competing aromachemical. By calling these molecules things like Aldehyde C-16 if any other chemist thought it was an aldehyde they were starting off in the completely wrong direction. Which I have been told was the intent behind these names. I have found no corroboration of this in any reference book I can find so this remains conjecture.

Aldehyde C-16 is actually an epoxide ester. Esters are many of the most common molecules in perfumery. They also often have very strong fruity and sweet aroma profiles. Aldehyde C-16 is often described as smelling like “fantasy strawberry”. It means that a little goes a long way.

Besides adding in the strawberry to many perfumes Aldehyde C-16 also carries a sweet floral undertone. This characteristic makes it a perfect partner to the strong floral notes like rose, jasmine, or osmanthus. A perfumer can use it like a tuning fork dialing in a specific effect on a prominent floral note or accord. It is one of the more versatile ingredients on the perfumer’s palette.

While I confine my strawberry picking to the farm fields many perfumers pick Aldehyde C-16 when they want to add strawberry to a fragrance.

Mark Behnke