Introduction to Perfumery
Perfumery can be considered to be an art and can be traced back in time as far as ancient Egypt, it was further refined by the Romans and the Arabs. Knowledge of perfumery came to Europe as early as the 14th century. During the Renaissance period, perfumes were used primarily by royalty and the wealthy to mask bodily odours resulting from the poor sanitary practices of the day. Since then it is widely used in many different forms.
Basically, perfumes are a mixture of fragrant essential oils and aroma compounds, fixatives, and solvents used to give the human body, objects, and living spaces a lasting, pleasant and pleasing smell. The subject of perfumery is a fascinating one. This guide will show you some of the foundations of the subject and is split into three logical parts (links to each section are shown above), aromas and their sources, the methods of obtaining odorants and the composing or creation of perfumes. You will also find a number of different perfumery raw materials and products on this site. If you can't find what you are looking for, please contact us as we keep a very large number of perfumery ingredients in stock in our warehouses.
If you are beginner to the world of perfumery, then one of the first things you should get to know is the different types of aromas and their sources. The list below shows the different types and is split into different sections, natural, animal and synthetic.
Plants have long been used in perfumery as a source of essential oils and aroma compounds. Plants are by far the largest source of fragrant compounds used in perfumery. The sources of these compounds may be derived from various parts of a plant. A plant can offer more than one source of aromatics, for instance the aerial portions and seeds of coriander have remarkably different odours from each other. Orange leaves, blossoms, and fruit zest are the respective sources of petit grain, neroli, and orange oils.
Bark: The most commonly used barks are cascarilla and cinnamon. The fragrant oil in sassafras root bark is also used either directly or purified for its main constituent, safrole, which is used in the synthesis of other fragrant compounds such as helional.
Flowers and Blossoms: This section is where the largest source of aromatics can be found. These of Include the flowers of several species of lavender and rose, as well as jasmine, mimosa, osmanthus, tuberose as well as the flowers / blossom of the citrus and ylang-ylang trees. Although not traditionally thought of as a flower, the unopened flower buds of the clove are also commonly used. Orchid flowers are not commercially used to produce essential oils or absolutes.
Fruits: Fresh fruits such as apples, cherries and strawberries are famous for not always providing the odours you would expect from them. The such fragrance notes you may find in perfumery will always be synthetic. The only exceptions are litsea cubeba, and juniper berry. The most commonly used fruity fragrances usually yield their aroma from the rind, these include citrus such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit.
Leaves and Twigs: Only a few different types of leaves and twigs are used within perfumery. The most commonly used are citrus, patchouli, rosemary, sage and violets.
Lichens: These are fungus, of the class ascomycetes, that usually grow with algae, resulting in a composite organism that forms a crust or branching growth on rocks or tree trunks. The most commonly used lichens are oakmoss and treemoss thalli.
Resins: These have been valued since antiquity, resins have been widely used in incense and perfumery. Highly fragrant and antiseptic resins and resin-containing perfumes have been used by many cultures as medicines for a large variety of ailments. Commonly used resins in perfumery include labdanum, frankincense/olibanum, myrrh, Peru balsam, gum benzoin. Pine and fir resins are a particularly valued source of terpenes used in the organic synthesis of many other synthetic or naturally occurring aromatic compounds. Some of what is called amber and copal in perfumery today is the resinous secretion of fossil conifers.
Roots, rhizomes and bulbs: The most commonly used of these in perfumery include iris rhizomes, vetiver roots, various rootstock of the ginger family.
Seeds: Some of the most commonly used seeds used in perfumery are: anise, caraway, cardamom, cocoa, coriander, mace, nutmeg, vanilla and the lesser known tonka bean.
Woods: The woods section is always important when providing the base notes to a perfume, wood oils and distillates are indispensable in perfumery. The most commonly used woods include sandalwood, rosewood, agarwood, birch, cedar, juniper, and pine.
Although some of these sources and their aromas are extremely unpleasant but are pleasant when highly diluted. They are very important as preserving agents when mixed with alcoholic solutions (it is the undiluted aroma that can be rather unpleasant).
Ambergris: This is obtained from lumps of oxidized fatty compounds, which is secreted and expelled by the Sperm Whale. This is extremely rare and in some regions of the world is banned.
Castoreum: This is obtained from the odorous sacs of the North American beaver.
Civet: Again, this is obtained from the odorous sacs of the civets, animals in the family Viverridae, related to the Mongoose.
Honeycomb: Distilled from the honeycomb of the Honeybee.
Musk: This was originally derived from the musk sacs from the Asian musk deer, but has now been replaced by the use of synthetic musk's due to its outstandingly high price and various ethical issues.
Synthetic aromatics are created through organic synthesis from various chemical compounds that are obtained from petroleum distillates or pine resins. Synthetics can provide fragrances which are not found in nature. For instance, calone, a compound of synthetic origin, imparts a fresh ozonous metallic marine scent that is widely used in contemporary perfumes. Synthetic aromatics are often used as an alternate source of compounds that are not easily obtained from natural sources. For example, linalool and coumarin are both naturally occurring compounds that can be cheaply synthesized from terpenes. Orchid scents are usually not obtained directly from the plant itself but are instead synthetically created to match the fragrant compounds found in various orchids.
Before perfumes can be composed, the odorants used in various perfume compositions must first be obtained. Synthetic odorants are produced through organic synthesis and purified. Odorants from natural sources require the use of various methods to extract the aromatics from the raw materials. The results of the extraction are either essential oils, absolutes, concretes, or butters, depending on the amount of waxes in the extracted product.
Distillation: A common technique for obtaining aromatic compounds from flowers, plants, and grasses, such as orange blossoms and roses. The raw material is placed in a distillation still with water and heated until the fragrant compounds are driven from the material and re-collected through condensation of the distilled vapour. The water used in distillation, which retains some of the fragrant compounds and oils from the raw material is called hydrosol.
Effleurage: Absorption of aroma materials into wax and then extracting the odorous oil with alcohol. Extraction by effleurage was commonly used when distillation was not possible due to the fact that some fragrant compounds denature through high heat. This technique is not commonly used in the present day industry due to its prohibitive cost and the existence of more efficient and effective extraction methods.
Expression: Raw material is squeezed or compressed and the oils are collected. Of all raw materials, only the fragrant oils from the peels of fruits in the citrus family are extracted in this manner since the oil is present in large enough quantities as to make this extraction method economically feasible.
Maceration/Solvent extraction: The most commonly used and economically important technique for extracting aromatics in the modern perfume industry. Raw materials are submerged in a solvent that can dissolve the desired aromatic compounds. Maceration lasts anywhere from hours to months. Fragrant compounds for woody and fibrous plant materials are often obtained in this matter as are all aromatics from animal sources. The technique can also be used to extract odorants that are too volatile for distillation or easily denatured by heat. Commonly used solvents for maceration/solvent extraction include ethanol, hexane, and dimethyl ether.
Perfume oils usually contain tens to hundreds of ingredients. Included in the perfume are fixatives, which bind the various fragrances together, include balsams, ambergris, and secretions from the scent glands of civets and musk deer (undiluted, these have unpleasant smells but in alcoholic solution they act as preserving agents). The mixture is normally aged for one year.
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Revised: 23rd March 2017