Orris root: the origin

In its encyclopaedia of raw materials Osmoz tells us that iris comes from Far East. But there is also a legend narrating that iris flowers were born from the rainbow shatters. That is why they are named “iris” that means “rainbow” in Greek. Could it be true? Well, one can easily figure this out by looking at the colorful petals of iris flower.

Next to the rainbow colored petals some of iris flowers are also delicately scented. But only a couple of about 250 species of Iris genus are highly valued in perfumery for their scented root (that is actually an underground rootlike stem properly called rhizome). This is so called Orris root – the name referred to the rhizome of either Iris pallida or Iris germanica. Some sources mention Iris florentina as well, but others insist that it’s a variety and not a specimen. Iris pallida is widely cultivated in Florence, Italy while Iris germanica is primarily grown in Marocco.

It takes three years till the rhizomes are ready to be harvested, but three years of waiting is not enough as fresh orris root is almost odourless. You can’t use it in perfumery yet. It takes another three years of aging in jute bags for the collected and peeled rhizomes until they become ripe and scented. So, it costs you six years of patience and intensive labor to get the precious root. And the cultivation of iris is really labor-intensive, because planting, weeding, harvesting and peeling – all those steps are done by hand. It’s not a surprise that good quality natural raw materials yielded from orris root are more expensive than gold.

The main constituent of orris root are irones, chemical compounds that are formed during the aging period from other compounds of Orris root. The content of irones is an index of quality exercising the influence on the price of Orris root. So called “1% irone index” determines the standard of quality. Unfortunately there is a lot of orris root on the market that doesn’t meet this standard. Anything what is labor-intensive and expensive is often a subject of cheating and adulteration. The proper aging procedures are often violated resulting in a poorer quality of Orris root. In its article “Orris: A star of inspiration” Pierre-Jean Hellivan mentions that it’s a common practice to offer Orris root with historically low levels of irone.

The major part of Orris root comes from Italy followed by Marocco, China and France. Italy, China and France are cultivating Iris pallida while Marocco grows Iris germanica. There are also new sources of this precious root from Bulgaria, Serbia and Polland.

It’s interesting to notice, that perfume industry is not the biggest consumer of Orris root. The major part of it goes to the flavoring industry where it is used in production of beverages rounding the natural berry flavours. Much lesser part of Orris root goes to perfumery. But to become a fragrance compound it need further processing. The simplest way is to make an Orris tincture. Next to ambergris, civet and castoreum tinctures it was a very frequent constituent of ancient perfumes formulae. Nowadays there are also other natural Orris raw materials available. Next time I hope to tell you about them.

Above: Iris pallida from http://www.pacificbulbsociety.org/pbswiki/index.php/GardenBeardedIrises

Below: Iris germanica from http://users.ca.astound.net/kenww/my_garden/bearded.htm

Interesting reading:
“Orris: A star of Inspiration” by Pierre-Jean Hellivan (Charabot) – an article in Perfumer and Flavorist, July, 2009 (vol 34. nr. 7). You can buy the full article at http://www.perfumerflavorist.com/magazine/pastissues/2009/34214239.html

Encyclopedia of raw materials on the Osmoz website (http://www.osmoz.com/Encyclopedia/Raw-materials/Iris).

3 opmerkingen:

Andy zei

good morning to you, AromaX
for me, perfumery without irones is unthinkable. Thinking that a molecule with a price tag like irone alpha of 1000 euro per kilo is used to adulterate the natural orris root... it tells us how expensive orris root extracts are. If they are perfumery quality. By the way: C02 extracted Orris root is also a quality of its own...
I wish you a lovely day

AromaX zei

And good evening to you too, Andy. And thank you. It were your perfumes and comments that finally made me understand that I have to put more attention on iris-notes :o)
Indeed a good point about the price of orris raw materials.
I found and bought some Orris root CO2 at our local supplier - hope to share my impressions later.
Have a nice and fragrant weekend.
P.S. It will be a very cold weekend here in Netherlands...

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