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Customers Hunger for Pilsen Perfumer's Tamale Scents

By Chloe Riley | January 14, 2013 2:05pm

PILSEN — Chili, corn and vanilla scents wafted through the air, but this tamale smell wasn’t coming from a Mexican restaurant or sidewalk food cart.

Perfumer Zorayda Ortiz debuted a sneak preview of Tamale perfume from her new line “La Dieciocho” (The 18th), for 2nd Fridays at Pilsen Vintage and Thrift last week.

Ortiz, who has a biological sciences degree, said she started her company Zoils out of her love for science and spirituality, both of which are infused in her scents.

After DNAinfo.com Chicago reported on the tamale perfume, Ortiz’s story received national attention.

“I feel blessed. I feel like it’s just the beginning of a journey,” Ortiz said.

The media attention jump-started her business. At Friday's event she also held a silent auction — with limited edition oils decorated by Pilsen artist Sam Kirk — to raise money for Zoils, which will now be called Love Zoils.

Both "Tamal," a scent based on al pastor (pork) tamales, and "Tamal Fresa," with top notes of strawberry, were available for purchase Friday night.  

Ellen Urquiaga, 50, came down from Evanston with her husband to catch a whiff of the oils.

Urquiaga, who heard about the oils on the radio, said both versions of the tamale perfume were a little sweet and spicy for her, but she was drawn to Ortiz’s heart chakra oil that has sandalwood and rose notes.

“They don’t have that ‘I’m at a Grateful Dead concert’ kind of thing going on,” she said of the oils.

Ten-year-old Kayla Yates said she chose the Fresh scent “because it just kind of smelled natural.”

Kayla came all the way from DeKalb with her mother, Linda Yates, who used to work with Ortiz in the Biology department at Northern Illinois University.

“It’s like those flavored oils you want to eat,” Anne Mastny of Berwyn said after trying on some Tamal Fresa perfume. “It makes me want fresh fruit.”

The tamale scent, Ortiz said, is “not to make you hungry, but to make others hunger for you as you wear it.”