Natural ingredients are components from plants that produce odorous molecules. Each plant contains an assembly of several hundred aromatic constituents that create its olfactory signature. Historically the plants used in perfumery came from the Mediterranean basin and in particular from the Grasse region, due to its favourable climate, however, today they are sourced from all over the world. Depending on the species, all or part of its components are used in perfumery (roots, stems, leaves, bark, flowers, fruits or seeds). Harvesting is usually done by hand, and the extraction processes are often carried out at the same place or nearby to avoid the deterioration of the living material. Natural ingredients for perfumery are processed using two main techniques: distillation and solvent extraction.
This extraction method was invented by the Persians and has been used since at least 961 AD. Flower petals are put into a copper still and covered with water, the mixture is brought to a boil and then the steam transports the odorous materials and flows into a container where it is collected as perfumed water. The water is easily separated from the essential oil by density.
This ancient method produces a citrus essence (lemon, mandarin or bergamot) from the zest of the fresh fruit – all of the principle odorants are found in this zone permeated with vesicles. A peeler, a machine with spiked rollers, scrapes the fruit while small jets of water wash the outer peel transporting the essential oil into a centrifuge that is then separated from the water.
Extraction with Volatile Solvents
Flower petals or leaves are put into a tank (the extractor) and covered with a solvent (Hexane) that is extremely volatile and has the ability to carry the odorous molecules out of the plant. The perfumed solvent is brought to the boil to obtain a solid paste called “concrete”. Once it is purified with ethyl alcohol to become wax-free the quintessence of the product is obtained – the absolute.
The traditional concept of enfleurage was developed in the 19th century in Grasse, and used the power of a fatty substance to absorb the scent of a plant; IFF-LMR has reinvented this into a “Neo” version. This new process immerses fresh flowers in a tank filled with an organic fatty substance and leaves them to macerate. The odor-impregnated fat is then distilled.
Joint distillation of two products of different densities, one made from volatile components (essential oil or CO2 extract) and the other made from “heavier” components (an absolute or a concrete), in this way a third ingredient is created that does not exist in nature: Ormond flower, fruit of a co-distillation between the absolute of Orange Blossom and Bitter Almond essence.
Supercritical CO2 Extraction
Used in perfumery since the 1990s (the pink berry extract dates from 1993), supercritical CO2 extraction gives natural essences a matchless purity. It is based on the compression of carbon dioxide until it changes from a gas to a fluid. In this “supercritical state” it acts as a solvent carrying the odorous compounds out of the plant. The temperatures remain relatively low and the plant matter does not deteriorate. This technique is mainly used for naturals that are very fragile or have a muted odor: wood, bark, seeds and spices. It is eco-friendly and does not generate greenhouse gases or pollutants.
Also called “Rectification”, this selective distillation uses varying boiling temperatures to recover the different components of a product. For example, an essence of Patchouli is subjected to increasing temperatures and at each level a different fraction of the Patchouli is recovered. The fractions are analysed and assembled removing undesirable constituents (the musty or camphor notes of Patchouli). The extract obtained is called a “heart”.
A process that does not require any chemical solvents (therefore the reaction is clean), it only uses sugar, water, the action of enzymes and other micro-organisms, especially yeast, to replace petrochemical-based reagents. Every ingredient derived from biotechnology can receive the “natural” label.
MD or Molecular Distillation
Molecular distillation of a natural extract (most often an Absolute) allows perfumers to “zoom in” on an ingredient, selecting only the odorous molecules they wish to keep and eliminating those they do not want (dyes for example). The process is based on the vibration distances between the molecules present in the natural extract under certain conditions of pressure and temperature. The extract is passed through two concentric columns in a vacuum and its non-volatile components are trapped, while the volatile odorous molecules are recovered at the outlet.
The extraction process that leads to products called ESSENTIAL™ is the result of a combination of several techniques that capture all the fragrant molecules from a raw material, when a significant fraction is lost in each one. It is a combination of hydro-distillation and decantation, steam distillation as well as absorption and desorption. The resulting natural product is therefore richer in scented molecules and is more like fresh matter.
Modern perfumery was born at the end of the 19th century with the appearance of the first synthetic molecules. The chemist obtains them either by a single or by a series of chemical reactions from various mineral or plant products: coal tars, castor hilum, rosewood or eucalyptus. These chemical bodies can be “identical in nature”, isolated or reproduced in the laboratory but also found in nature, or entirely “artificial”, that is to say molecules that have never before been found in the natural world.