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Everything you need to know about perfume extraction!

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

Did you know that there are different ways of extracting a perfume ?

Originally, extraction is a method of infusing plant material in water and solvent heated to 60°, in the past water was even replaced by oils. Today there are five different methods to complete a perfume extraction: Expression, Distillation, Enfleurage, Volatile solvent extraction, and finally, Supercritical CO2 extraction.

If you are intrigued by these processes, please read on!

Episode 1 : Expression.

Expression is a fairly old mechanical extraction process, which began in the 19th century in Sicily, and which is only used on citrus fruits. It is a mechanical treatment that allows the essential oil (or essence) to be extracted from the small glands found in the peel of the citrus fruit (also known as "zests" or "epicarp"). The aim is to subject this to a high pressure with the help of a press in order to obtain a liquid called the "absolute". This process does not alter the basic product in any way, so that the smell remains intact and is best respected.

In the past, the process was carried out manually using a so-called "sponge" process. Then the citrus fruit was cut in half, the pulp was removed and the skin was moistened well. After letting it sit for about 10 hours, all that was left to do was to press the essence onto a set of sponges. After decanting, one of these sponges had to be pressed to extract the essence of the fruit in the vase. However, this method has now given way to industrialisation. Now, the representation is done in a second way where you can use the whole fruit and press it. A centrifuge is then used to separate the juice and essential oil from the fruit.


Episode 2 : Distillation.

Distillation is an essential method in the perfume industry for extracting essential oils from aromatic plants. The history of distillation in perfumery dates back to ancient times, but the modern method was developed in the Middle Ages by the Arab alchemists.

The technique of distillation in perfumery involves the use of an alembic, which is a large steel vessel with serpentine pipes, to heat the aromatic plants with steam. The steam is then condensed to produce a concentrated essential oil and travels up the pipes. As it cools, condensation is created and collected, which is known as floral water. Commonly used raw materials for distillation in perfumery include lavender, rose, jasmine, patchouli and sandalwood.

The quality and fragrance of the essential oil depends on the plant used, the distillation method, temperature, pressure and distillation time. Perfumers can also use fractionation techniques to separate the different components of the essential oil and create more complex fragrances. However, with this technique the ratio remains very low, as it takes on average one ton of rose to obtain one kilo of essential oil.


Episode 3 : Enfleurage.

The enfleurage technique has been practiced since antiquity and was frequently used during the 18th century. This method, which was highly developed at the time, was perfected in Grasse, in the South of France. However, the technique was abandoned around the 1930s when the volatile solvent extraction process became reliable. Enfleurage is a method of manufacturing perfumes based on the use of a fatty substance and its ability to naturally absorb odours. Two types of enfleurage exist: cold and hot.

Hot enfleurage, also known as maceration, consists of infusing flowers and other fragrant raw materials that are fairly heat resistant, in a fatty substance preheated to between 40 and 60°. The flowers in this mixture are then stirred frequently for about 2 hours until the fat is completely saturated with aroma. The resulting mixture is called a pomade. This pomade is then filtered and decanted with alcohol to obtain what is called the Absolue.

Cold enfleurage is reserved for the most fragile plants and flowers. It consists of a glass frame on which grease is spread before covering it with flowers. The flowers are changed by hand to be as delicate as possible, until the grease is completely impregnated with perfume, which is every 24 to 48 hours. This process can take several months, and one kilogram of fat can absorb up to three kilograms of plant aroma. Once the pomade is obtained, the process is the same whether it is cold or hot enfleurage: it must be melted slowly before being decanted by ethyl treatment, so that the odorous molecules are dissolved in the alcohol. The mixture is then cooled and the fat is filtered from it. Only the heart of the perfume, also called the Absolute, remains.


See you next week for a new episode ;)

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