Enfleurage is an ancient technique used for extracting essential oils from the most delicate flowers, like Frangipani, Gardenia, Jasmine, Lily, Rose and Tuberose. Enfleurage Essential Oils are extremely rare and there are only a very few producers of this type of aromatic extract.
The Enfleurage technique of extracting aromatic oils from flowers works on the simple principle that fats dissolve essential oils and thereby absorb their aromas. Petals and other fragrant plant parts are soaked in animal fat or vegetable oil which absorbs the fragrance. In the 19th century and early parts of the 20th, pork, lard and beef fat were used though now most producers use vegetable oils like palm oil. The vegetable oil is poured onto glass plates in a wooden frame called a chassis and then the flowers are placed on the vegetable oil and left to release their essentials oils for several days. The process is repeated several more times with the “spent” petals being removed and fresh flowers being added to the plates until the vegetable oil on the plates is completely saturated with the aromatic oils of the flowers. At this point you have a product called a “pomade”, which is simply animal fat or vegetable oil saturated with essential oils. To produce an enfleurage, the pomade is dissolved in alcohol and the essential oils migrate to the alcohol which is then separated from the vegetable oil. Finally, the alcohol is evaporated to leave pure aromatic essential oil. The details of the process, especially the final step of evaporating the alcohol, are a closely guarded secret, which is one reason there are so few producers of enfleurage essential oils. In some cases, the secrets of the process have been handed down in families for many generations. The essential oil extractions that result from enfleurage are technically referred to as “absolutes” but this is deceptive since the same term is used to describe essential oils that are extracted with the use of chemical solvents, such as hexane. Our supplier of absolutes extracted by enfleurage uses only Organic Palm Oil and Organic Sugar Cane Alcohol in the extraction process.
Enfleurage is used on certain flowers because some fragrant compounds denature when heat is applied and almost all fragrance is lost if steam distillation is attempted. Today most essential oils that are extracted from flowers that are too delicate for steam distillation are done so by solvent (chemical) extraction. These oils, extracted by solvents, are called absolutes. The production of absolutes using harsh chemicals, while still quite expensive, is cheaper than the old method of enfleurage of essential oils but, of course, the resultant oil can no longer be considered organic and there is always a hint of “chemical” smell to the aroma of the oil. The flowers that cannot withstand steam distillation for the extraction of their oils but for which enfleurage is appropriate include: Gardenia, Lily, Rose, Tuberose, jasmine, narcissus (daffodil/jonquil), mignonette (birthday flower), neroli, cassie, violet and carnation. Rose and neroli (orange blossom) are also available both as fine distilled oils and as absolutes.
The technique of enfleurage is very labor intensive and requires a lot of plant material and therefore it is quite costly but the exquisite results are truly worth it. In one study, 1000 kilos of Tuberose blossoms yielded only 801 grams of oil.
We work closely with one small producer in South America who uses a modern version of the ancient technique of enfleurage to produce completely organic oils of Frangipani Essential Oil, Jasmine Essential Oil, Gardenia Essential Oil, Lily Essential Oil, Rose Essential Oil, or Tuberose Essential Oil. On his small farm (and surrounding farms), he grows the flowers and then processes them using palm oil as the fat and pure alcohol derived from local sugar cane. By using all local products, he helps to support the local economy and small farmers and gives employment to indigenous residents.