Orchid opportunity: Kao discovers unique scents to advance fragrance innovation

By Hui Ling Dang

- Last updated on GMT

The application of orchid scents in beauty products has yet to be fully explored and developed. ©Getty Images
The application of orchid scents in beauty products has yet to be fully explored and developed. ©Getty Images

Related tags Kao flowers Japan Fragrance

Japanese beauty giant Kao is looking to develop new products based on distinct orchid scents, after discovering hundreds of options that are yet to be harnessed for commercial applications.

Many floral scents are used for cosmetics, fine fragrances and other beauty products. Compared to rose or jasmine, the application of orchid scents has yet to be fully explored and developed.

To advance the application of orchid fragrances in cosmetic products, Kao Corporation’s Sensory Science Research Institute conducted a joint research with Tsukuba Botanical Garden, the botanical research centre of Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science.

Led by Dr Masao Kubota, Senior Partner contractor at Sensory Science Research Institute, a total of 167 orchid species were studied from April 2017 to December 2019.

According to the findings, 887 different aroma compounds were identified in orchid flower fragrances, which indicate that orchid scents are significantly more diverse than those of other plants.

In addition, 38% of the aroma compounds were present in only one species of orchid. This means that a large number of orchid species have unique and individual scents.

“Some natural floral scents have an exquisite balance that is beyond the reach of human knowledge. In particular, orchid scents are rich in variety and can be applied to a wide range of products.

“As a flower, orchids have a mysterious and noble image that can be imparted to products through their scents. The versatility of orchid scents shows a great promise for its applications to enhance the value of cosmetic products,” ​said Dr Kubota, who was Senior Principal Research Scientist at the time of the study.

Present and potential applications

Adenoncos parviflora​ is an orchid species that grows in South East Asian forests, and is closely related to the Phalaenopsis japonica ​and Vanda falcata ​species that are native to Japan, Korea and China.

Despite its tiny flowers, this orchid is characterised by a one-of-a-kind gourmand scent that is reminiscent of coconut and sweet pastries.

Currently, Kao has incorporated orchid fragrances into several of its product lines, although the company believes there is still much untapped potential for wider applications.

An example of its application is SUQQU’s VALUME premium skin care range. A complex but harmonious fragrance was specially created for this product line, with the middle note composed by Adenoncos parviflora ​and other natural floral scents.

Under the SENSAI skin care brand, the fragrance used in the Absolute Silk series and Prime Solution is formulated from Vanda falcata​, while the Cellular Performance range is enriched with the fragrance of the Cymbidium sp ​orchid.

“Kao will continue to consider the application of orchid fragrances to new brands and new product concepts,”​ said Dr Kubota.

A long history of fragrance research

Kao’s first Fragrance Laboratory was established in 1972. It was succeeded by the Sensory Science Research Institute, which specialises in sensory research and fragrance development, in January 2019.

The Institute has been collaborating with the Tsukuba Botanical Garden to explore orchid fragrances since 2001.

At the Tsukuba Orchid Exhibition held in January, Kao showcased actual plants of Adenoncos parviflora​ and its aroma compounds discovered through instrumental analysis.

A reproduction of the orchid’s scent, as well as some cosmetic products using fragrances derived from it, were made available for visitors to experience.

Related news

Follow us


View more



Beauty 4.0 Podcast