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Image: One of the favorite jasmine absolute
Jasmine essential oil is an interesting perfumery fairytale. Does it exist? Yes, it does. Jasmine essential oil is a mixture of volatile components of the jasmine flower. Is it possible to yield those components as essential oil? No. Those fragrant volatile components are only yielded as absolute.
Essential oils can be yielded either by mean of expression or by mean of distillation. Expression can be applied only when the plant contains a lot of essential oils (like citrus peel). For distillation the plant should still contain enough essential oil and should be resistant for heating.
Jasmine flowers contain too little essential oil that can be yielded only by mean of solvent extraction or by an old method of enfleurage. The extraction is simple. Fresh opened blossoms comes in contact with volatile organic solvent (like benzene or hexane) and replaced with fresh flowers again and again till the solvent is saturated. After the solvent is eliminated from a saturated solution, the mass, consisting of volatile components and non-volatile waxes and colures is left. It’s concrete. This concrete is partially dissolved in pure alcohol to separate non-soluble waxes from the fragrant part. After filtration and elimination of alcohol the absolute is left. Thus, absolute contains almost the same volatile components as essential oils, but also less volatile (or non-volatile) components and (naturally occurring) colorants. The presence of less volatile components makes absolutes smelling different (somewhat deeper) than essential oils.
Enfleurage is romantically described in the book of Patrick Süskind “Perfume”. This method uses the high affinity of volatile components to fat. Freshly picked blossoms of jasmines are places on the trays of greased plates for 24 hours. They are replaced with fresh blossoms each 24 hours till the fat is saturated. This saturated fat is called pomade. The absolute can be extracted with alcohol the same way as it is extracted from the concrete. Due to its costliness enfleurage is almost everywhere substituted by solvent extraction.
Thus, there is no Jasmine essential oil available on the market. Only absolute. So, if you hold a bottle of Jasmine essential oil than it’s probably a synthetic fragrant oil (if it’s clear) or an absolute (especially if it’s dark and viscous). But it’s also can be an infused oil. In India the method of infusion is applied to capture the smell of jasmine. The blossoms are processed with a hot oil till it is saturated with a jasmine fragrance. Such an oil is not an essential oil, but an infused Jasmine oil (often called Chamelli-oil).
It’s also possible to distil jasmine blossoms together with sandalwood. The product is called Jasmine attar – a mixture of jasmine and sandalwood essential oils. Such an attar might be by mistake called pure Jasmine essential oil.
Theoretically it’s also possible to distil essential oil from absolute, but this method is not used in perfumery.
Jasmine absolute is a very expensive product with varying quality. That is why this absolute is often adulterated. The cheaper synthetics are used to mix with absolute and decrease the prime cost or to improve its olfactory characteristic.
A couple of interesting facts:
- Because only freshly picked blossoms are used for solvent extraction, concrete may be only produced near the jasmine growth place. But absolute can be made from concrete everywhere. Some perfume houses makes their own absolute from concrete they buy.
- Absolute may be made from a mixture of different concretes from different places. Mostly it’s done to provide a kind of standardized jasmine absolute. It would be difficult to say from what growth place such an absolute comes from.