What is benzoin?

Benzoin is a type of resin. This resin is a sticky juice, which comes from the bark of a tropical tree that can grow very high: the benzoin tree (Styrax). This tree can be found in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam (benzoin Siam, from styrax tonkinensis), in Java and Sumatra (benzoin Sumatra, from styrax benzoin). The resin is obtained by making a notch in the trunk of the tree. When it comes off the tree, the resin is still liquid but soon dries into small, brittle balls, often golden in color.

The three wise men

According to the bible, the three wise men from the East brought gifts for the Christmas child: gold, frankincense and myrrh. But according to researchers, it was not gold but benzoin, a sweet-smelling resin with the color gold. This resin was just as precious as gold in those days. The confusion arose because the words gold and benzoin were similar in Arabic, or the language of the three wise men from the East (Arabia).

At the end of the 19th century, August Ponsot discovered that if you dip Armenian paper in benzoin mixed with alcohol, it clears the air and gives off a pleasant scent. At the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, he won a prize with this invention.
Benzoin is often found in oriental fragrances, but it is also used in citrus and woody fragrances.