If you are into natural perfumery the chances are that your favourite scent contains one or more natural perfumery absolutes.
Oh. Right. I hear you say….But what is a natural perfumery absolute?
Natural perfumery absolutes are categorised separately from essential oils but they are very similar to essential oils in that they are aromatic oils extracted from plant material. However where essential oils are either steam distilled, cold pressed or extracted using CO2, absolutes are ‘solvent extracted’ usually with chemicals such as,hexane, ether, methanol or ethanol but occasionally with an organic solvent.
The petals of many flowers are too delicate to be steam distilled. The heat trashes them and the petals stick together in a big clump that the steam can’t freely pass through to extract the aromatic material.
In the past natural perfumery absolutes have received some bad press but our contemporary methods of extraction and the solvents that are used have evolved to fit today’s far more ethically aware consumers.
Absolutes are considered to fit very neatly into the category of natural products.
In the final processes of extraction the solvent is removed, but there can be an extremely low concentration of residue (less than 10 parts per million/0.0001%) in the finished absolute. Because of this, some aromatherapists won’t use absolutes in their therapeutic practice. However, absolutes are highly valued in natural perfumery. Of course, once the absolute is diluted down as part of a perfume what is left of the residue becomes parts per trillions! All our natural perfume oils use a combination of essential oils and absolutes
Absolutes are more concentrated than essential oils and therefore have more intense aroma, which is ideal for perfumery.
Solvent extraction pulls the aromatic oils from the plant material plus chlorophyll and other plant material so you can imagine, all in all this produces a very viscous, or often even solid ‘concrete’ highly aromatic material which is then diluted slightly with alcohol to make it easier to work with. Lastly, the solvent is removed and the final result is the absolute.
What is the benefit of absolutes?
Because so much of the plant material is used in the process, the aroma of the final absolute could be described as:
more complete, or fuller than that of the corresponding essential oil and are generally more true to the actual aroma of the original plant material.
And that is why, at the end of the day, when all is said and done and we are establishing a base line, natural perfumery LOVES absolutes!