Get Excited About Extraction!
Have you ever wondered about the processes that go into making the scents that go into our fragrances? Fragrance extraction is a fascinating process and there are several different methods that are used in the industry.
The first and most common method is organic solvent extraction. Using a solvent such as hexane or ditmethyl ether, the raw material is submerged and the non-water soluble frangrance chemicals are absorbed into the solvent. The aromatic compounds are then extracted in a vacuum process and the solvent is then commonly re-used. The extraction process can take as little as a few hours all the way up to several months.
A vial of Jasmine absolute.
One product of the extraction process are compounds known as "concretes". These often contain a large amount of wax or resin which keeps them from being useable for fragrance blending. Concretes are typically processed a second time using ethyl alcohol. The ethyl alcohol pulls the aromatics out of the compound and is then distilled into what is called an "absolute". Absolutes command premium prices due to the extra labor involved as well as their tendency to be truer to the original fragrance of the raw material.
An example of Jasmine concrete.
Have you heard a fragrance note described as a "CO2"? This is a common term for compounds which have been extracted using "supercritical fluid extraction". In this process, high pressure CO2 gas forms a low-surface tension fluid. As this method can be used at lower temperatures, it can produce a very "true to the original" compound be allowing for aromatics to be extracted from waxes and fats without the need for a second ethyl alcohol distillation. Additionally, the CO2 imparts no fragrance to the end product, making it more desireable for delicate compounds.
Ethanol is also used for single phase distillation. This is the process used to make tinctures - the product of absorbing aromatics into the solvent without then further distilling of the compound. Because it is more hydrophylic than other solvents, ethanol extraction is not especially effective for use on fresh plant material as it would also absorb significant amounts of water into the solution.
Fragrance extraction is definitely on the edge between art and science! We hope that you find the process as exciting as we do!