Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Limon Kolonyasi: Turkish Lemon Cologne or Multi-Purpose Wonder

The small alleys of Izmir, languid by the sea that floats endlessly under the afternoon silvery sun rays, and the cobblestone maze of Istanbul, hide in their bowels a fresh, zingy and insouciant smell of innocent childhood. Beneath the ubiquitous sardines's salty aroma, the syrupy seker pare desserts offered on large trays in the street, the numerous Döner kebab joints and the fermented bulgur boza drink, one might bypass the simpler but happier smell of Limon Kolonyasi, a prevalent clean lemony scent emanating from seeimingly everywhere: closely cropped napes, kid's small hands under white, school-uniform collars, tabletops and plastic overlays, linen drying in the sun. The Ottomans had an established ritual of cleansing with lemon-scented alcohol; since they didn't drink it they found other uses for it. And from there on, the habit travelled to Europe and to the world...

Though not Turkish, but drawing upon the rich pool of the Eastern Mediterranean, I well recall my own mother, same as lots of men and women in my culture, used to carry a small splash bottle of fragrant alcoholic “eau” in her purse at all times (usually 4711 or Roger & Gallet), to refresh her hands or handkerchief during the day with a swift and effective “pick me up” and to even quick-cleanse mine in the absence of water and soap as a small child, thus killing two birds with one stone: eliminating some bacteria from casual contact with dirt and making me a fragrance aficionado ever since! Although she kept her precious exotic perfumes at home, the bergamot, lemon or even pine-infused eau de Cologne travelled with her, refreshing many a time a weary travelling companion and alleviating a stuffy atmosphere of a couped-up car on a long drive across Europe. The citrus base of such waters has left an indelible mark on my conscious; the scent of relief, of purity, of making things right. 
the Passaport sea front at Izmir via balkantravellers.com

Limon Kolonyasi is arguably an even simpler recipe than a traditional Eau de Cologne, but its infusion of essential oils of lemon and fragrant lemon blossoms into pure, clear grain alcohol makes it an ubiquitous addition to the mundane, elevating it into an everyday celebration of happiness: obviously refreshing, less obviously exhilarating, tingling the nose with its tartness and leaving a faint impression of purity and the sense that everything is as it should be. What's more priceless than that? 

One of the first things that makes an impression upon being greeted to a Turkish home or having a shave & hair cut at a Turkish barber's is the use of Limon Kolonyasi. Hosts offer you this tangy, zingy liquid, usually from a gigantic bottle with a blue or green label, to put on your hands like a runny disinfectant (instead of the gel-like substances full of triclosan and other dubious ingredients so popular in the west). You might also spot huge 1 LT plastic bottles shaped like laundry detergents at Turkish bathrooms and wonder if these people consume it by the gallon in secret. The Turkish, you see, not only use it as a general purpose mild disinfectant for their skin (as it is 80proof alcohol after all) but to wipe clean anything from toilets and sinks to bathtubs and tiles as a finishing touch of freshness, after a soapy lather, instead of the artificial potent scent of the cleaning fluids advertised on TV. This simple aroma is also unisex and fitting for summer and hot weather, making barbers finish off a session by splashing a generous amount on the nape of the neck, so that some of it is caught by the hair, which retains an intense freshness. And whenever you finish a meal at a restaurant or a street corner joint, there's some offered to refresh afterwards, either in the form of mini bottles or limon kolonyasi infused little towels. It's a delightful custom. 

One brand which makes a great Limon Kolonyasi is Duru. There is also Bogazicki Turkish Cologne which is recommended for after a wet shave and Selin Lemon Cologne. There's plenty for sale on Amazon too.

  I have been rubbing down with the Selin cologne after a shower (and following with whatever perfume took my fancy; both chypres and orientals went very well with it) for a couple months now and I'm running out. Till next time I'm at the land of the Ottomans...


  1. i love this post! i also have Selin limon cologne. i did a post on it but never knew about the origins of the ritual. also pasabahce do vintage-y colognes as well with a nice bottle. http://www.pasabahcemagazalari.com/yasam/kolonya/k-17

    1. Anonymous09:43

      That pasabahce collection is really great! Mini lemons, figs and even tobacco colognes ... Plain love!

  2. Λειντι Ντι,

    αχ τι μου έκανες τώρα; Τι υπέροχο μαγαζί είναι αυτό και τι όμορφες κολώνιες σε τόσο προσιτές τιμές!! Κάνουν άραγε αποστολές/πωλήσεις μέσω του site εδώ; Έχεις δοκιμάσει;

    This lemon blossom cologne is a most lovely habit and it shows how things not quite "glamorized" can hold their own special charm.

  3. oh wow very interesting post:) do i love it when you open the window to the smell of your madeleines ^_^
    I will seek out Limon Kolonyasi over here .... and on the web!

  4. brie14:18

    Thank you for my walk down memory lane-the scents that are most prevalent in my memory of childhood are 4711, Jean Nate and Nivea cream-they were a ubiquitous part of our household toiletteries. I also love what you said about the west and its too frequent usage of chemicals to mask odors and kill germs. I, for one, am very much against this and am always seeking out natural alternatives. Are any of the lemon blends you mentioned sold in the US?

    Citrus scents always bring a smile to my face and I would love to carry around a lemon alcohol concoction to not only disinfect my hands but raise my spirits :)

    And as an aside Pacifica Malibu Lemon Blossom is a scent I wore last summer which lends itself nicely to this post.

  5. How lovely! I just went to ebay and purchased a bottle. I cannot wait to towel down and layer!!

    PS, you verification codes are murder.

  6. Dina C.18:21

    I lived in Ankara, Turkey in the mid-70s when I was a little kid, and I remember the Turkish people using this lemon cologne all the time, everywhere. It was never just a few drops on a hanky either! This post brought back those memories vividly. My memory was that the lemon cologne was often used as a substitute for bathing and/or deodorant. Not very nice, especially on crowded buses when you are about as tall as a man's arm pit. :-( To this day, I'm not a big fan of lemony smelling stuff, and I'm sure this is why.

  7. Miss Heliotrope01:39

    Looks fascinating - at least I have some time before summer - this blog is becoming very hard on the bank account...

  8. Anonymous09:40

    The best brands are pereja and eyup sabri tuncer ... Well known for their nice glass bottles and pure fragrance ...

  9. Anonymous13:06

    Hello - I just wanted to thank you for this post. What a wonderful idea - I had never heard about this. Despite being from "the west," I don't like chemically hand sanitizers/cleaners any more than you do. I plan to adopt this lemon cologne tradition right now!

  10. Violaine,

    thank you! It's always kinda nostalgic going on about things from our childhood or tips pilfered from trips...

    I think you will find there's plenty and it's very cheap too. A fun thing for summer!

  11. Brie,

    good point: this does double duty, as it's not only mildly disinfectant, it's also an optimism charm!

    It's always best to rely on old and tested household tips when one can. For instance doing the window panes with some old newspaper and some plain old vinegar gives them a great shine (unbelievable but true). A few drops of lemon and citronella oil in a big water spray are great for wiping clean soapy linoleum etc. ;-)

    And a wonderful addition your thinking about the Pacifica, thank you!! :-)

  12. DJF,

    good for you!!

    It's very refreshing after a shower and since it's a rather fleeting, feel good thing you can layer to your heart's content!

    I will see what I can do about the verification codes. (Maybe not have them at all?) It's unfortunately not something I get to choose from a pool of options.... :-(

  13. Dina,

    LOL that might have something to do with it!
    Thankfully, that was not my experience, but I guess many things have changed since, people were poorer then, they might also wear more polyester clothes (which are cheaper) and those tend to smell, yuck!
    Then again, there's always *someone* on the bus who stinks up the joint one way or the other, isn't there?

  14. C,

    I'm grinning. :-) Well, this one is so dirt cheap you can't blame me for enabling. And don't let anyone say I don't propose inexpensive things too!


  15. Anon,

    Pereja and Eyup sabri tuncer go on my list pronto! The glass bottle alone is a great incentive (all that plastic looks foul). Thank you!!

  16. Anon #2,

    indeed they look amazing, the retro style bottle is a beaut! I am very psyched to get some myself. And the price is really competitive too.

  17. Anon #3,

    thank you for commenting to say so. :-)

    Indeed, it's easy, practical, very pleasant. And you can even do it with other refreshing scents as well, such as pine, bergamot, lavender, rosemary...the sky is the limit.

    (we have for instance a mean local lavender cologne which might do the trick as well most admirably, upcoming post on that one soon!!) ;-)

  18. Anonymous19:34

    Oh, the lovely limon kolonyasi, years ago I used to bring this back from trips to Turkey, way before I "got into perfumes." (and when I did, Mugler Cologne was one of the first perfumes I fell in love with).

    Nice article!


  19. Malteria,

    ah, another one in the club!! It's quite spirited and uplifting, especially for such a simple thing. The humble things in life can be so joyous sometimes.
    Mugler's Cologne is absolutely great too! It takes this spirit and elevates it into something that is technically a feat.

    Thanks for the kind words :-) And super-nice to see you here again!

  20. It reminded me of another thing from my childhood. Here people don't do cologne that much but there's an universal ointment made mainly of lanolin, I think, with a bit of lavender oil. It's used on all sorts of (not only) babies' skin irritations and I have a huge jar at my bedside table to put on my face and hands and anything that needs it.

    I wonder if there's something like lanolin absolute or at least synthetic smell-alike because lanolin has some peculiar floral aspect which I love.

    I have an universal use-by-buckets cologne these days, Molinard's Rafale. I scored a 240 ml bottle for five-ish euros, it's a citrusy chypre or something, lasts ages...

  21. brie19:12

    Thank you for the links to these products on Amazon! I just received a GIGANTIC bottle of Pereja from Turkish Products. I am always carrying hand sanitizers in my purse for my children when we are on the go-i was using a witch hazel/aloe sanitizer from a natural company called Burts Bees. However, it doesn't smell that great. I put the Lemon Cologne in a small empty spray bottle and it is now a permanent fixture in my bag-smells fantastic!
    As good as Pacifica's Malibu Lemon Blossom for a fraction of the cost! Thank you so much for the suggestion :)

  22. brie11:31

    Thank you for this wonderful suggestion! I ordered from Turkish Products via the Amazon link and got a GIGANTIC bottle of Pereja which I decanted into a small sprayer. It has a permanent home in my purse as I plan to use as a hand santizer for my children when we are on the go. The smell (divine and so refreshing :)!!) is exactly like Pacifica's Malibu Lemon Blossom for a fraction of the cost!

  23. L,

    I doubt there'd be lanolin-scented anything, bar actual lanolin products, though of course I'm not 100% sure.
    As it comes from sheep are you sure that wool-like, slightly musky stuff isn't what you are after? I'm surprised to hear about a floral aspect. It all makes it more interesting of course.

    Rafale is an oldie; enjoy!!. The Molinard stuff is quite tenacious I find in general and rather underrated. I love their Molinard de Molinard and also enjoy Nirmala and Tendre Friandise from current offerings. Not mentioning the one everyone knows, of course.

  24. Brie,

    thanks for supplying that feedback!
    I'm so glad you found the suggestion enjoyable and plan on making it a part of your everyday life. It's a great little ritual to introduce children into the finer things in life. :-)

  25. Elena, I'll get some purified lanolin just to check but... I love washing fleeces. When you pour hot water on it, it gives off a most excellent smell, sort of greasy and flowery. I seriously doubt that the random bits of hay and twigs could smell so intensively that they would add that much to lanolin itself, which is always present, sheep are quite greasy.

  26. Anonymous10:27

    Its the firs time ı see somebody write on such a "folcloric" thing with a lot of information. Great.
    I would alson mention some other big and old Turkish brands of cologne such
    REBUL 117 years old and famous for their lavender cologne

    EYUP SABRİ TUNCER since 1923 ("the Republic'a smell",because they was founded at the same year with Turkish Republic was procklamed) and from Ankara

    ESMEN from Balıkesir

    TARİŞ a cooperatif of productors of olive, coton and and figs has their cologne of lemon and lavender and ı likje the las one

    For some others
    Especially for ESmen and Eyup Sabri Tuncer,before the perfume import days begun, the Turkish ladies used their romantically named other colognes such as "teint de femme,nuit de Paris,lys blanche et la goutte d'or" I can say that their cologne of tobacco is better than SMN 's Eau de Cuba evenly hunded times cheaper.

    And another part of this folklore in old good days the pomp of colognes used to used at little shopper to mix instantly for you some essence of the cologne and alcohol in the bottle that you carry to them.You can see this pomp at the left of this page. Funny. You can still see one of them for exemple in Ulus /Ankara http://www.sakinkafa.com/kafasina-kolonya-dokulen-cocuk/
    Even the Turkish youngsters does not find it "in" Turkey has an important cologne culture with funny details.

  27. Anonymous18:21

    Hi all,
    Just to let you know, some 'Limon Kolonasi' contain ethyl alcohol, which, if you are a Muslim, it is Haraam, as it contains alcohol. Thought I'd just let people know.

    1. Very true and something I needed to have stressed. All the Limon Kolonasi I know do contain alcohol. Sorry I didn't point it out.
      If you know of anything with a different solvent, do let us know please.


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