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"The perfume of orange blossoms stole up to me, and like the wave beats and at first blended with them, the fresh, pure tones of a woman's voice pulsed the air. The odor, the sound drew me downward; I let myself sink to a stately marble chateau that gleamed white in a grove of cypresses. The singer's voice streamed out of the wide- set windows, the water washed softly under the very walls of the building, and just opposite, completely mantled with orange and laurel shrubs, flooded with moonlight and tricked with many a fair statue and slender column, a round high island rose from the water's lap." Turgenev, Ivan : Visions--A Phantasy 1872

Dear Friends,

First I would like to thank you for all the kind remarks regarding the newsletter. The subject matter is such an interesting one and I do not think we can ever exhaust the inspiration to be derived from it. There are many different angles from which one can study the world of aromatic essences and each compliments the other if seen from the angle of appreciation and respect. There is always an underlying thread of unity in all things when we go a little bit into it. The contribution of the poet, the botanist, the scientist, the therapist, the perfumer, etc are all beautiful in their own way and serve to increase the wonder in the heart for the great aromatic treasures that nature has so kindly bestowed on us.

Today I am taking up the story of Neroli. It is an essence that is filled with the most remarkable, uplifting aromatic molecules. It is an essence which almost everyone loves. The main center of production is currently Tunisia with Morocco, Spain, France(southern part, Guinea, Algeria, Egypt and a few other counties contributing their own special distillations of this oil. It is important to remember that even though the very same genus and species of a plant may be used for distilling an oil, the oil itself may display marked differences. Much depends upon the soil, the climate of that particular year, the water, distilling technique, etc.

Sometimes people get use to Neroli or any other essential oil from a particular place or from a particular year and think that other types of Neroli are not good because they do not have the identical charactertics to the one they are use too, but in fact the other oil may be just as beautiful but in a different way. There is a whole galaxy of trace and minor aromatic molecules that contribute to the overall olfactory charactertics of an oil and good distilling techniques are those which endeavor to capture as much of these subtle constitutents as possible.

Distilling is a high art and craft, as is the growing and harvesting of the delicate flowers of trees like Citrus aurantium var. amara which gives us the precious Neroi Oil. Up to this time, I have not had the good fortune to work directly with any distillery producing Neroli oil. I have to rely on some of my trusted colleagues who have that type of resourcing power to provide me with high quality oils. So in this instance I also have to use my imagination to think of all the different things that go into to producing this precious oil.

I thought it might be of interest to everyone if I took an extract from Vol 3 pg 232-234 of Ernest Guenther's great work, Essential Oils to bring to life a bit of the labor involved in harvesting this flower. I think if our hearts go out to the hands that pluck the flowers and we also follow in our minds the flowers to the distillery, we can add our own special dimension of appreciation to the whole process. In this case Guenther is describing the harvest in Southern France in the 1940's, but I think one may reasonably that the technique of plucking remains relatively unchanged in countries where the oil is produced on a commercial scale. If anyone has more in depth information on the contemporary industry I will be delighted to share it with readers in the next issue.

Harvest "In Southern France the orange flower harvest takes place from the end of April to late May or early June; depending upon weather conditions, it lasts from three to four weeks. A small harvest can be gathered also in fall, but compared with the spring harvest it is insignificant. Picking is done mostly by women and children, who stand on ladders and drop the flowers on sheets spread on the ground around the trees. The blossoms from one tree are collected and put into a basket, the sheets spread beneath the next tree, the ladders moved, and the picking resumed. Years ago the flowers were picked only in the early morning after the dew had dried, but since World War 1 the picking has been extended to noon and even into the early afternoon.

A skilled worker can harvest daily from 8-10 kgs of flowers. The blossoms must be picked at the proper stage of development, when just beginning to open. Closed buds give an inferior yeild of oil with a somewhat "green" odor.(On the other hand, the orange flower water distilled from closed buds is very strong.) Flowers opened too far are apt to fade and spoil during the transport and storage preceding distillation. The flower material best suited to distillation or extraction consists of buds picked on a warm, sunny day.

Flowers collected on cloudy, foggy or rainy days give an inferior oil. Care must be taken to pick only the blossoms, and to exclude leaflets and petioles which, although increasing the weight of the flower material, impart a harsh petitgrain 'by-note' to the distilled neroli oil. Picking the proper blossom material requires considerable labor and is costly. For this reason the flowers are less carefully harvested during the years of low oil prices. The producers then frequently resort to a much cruder method-simply shaking the trees or beating down the flowers with sticks, which obviously results in a lower quality oil.

The day's harvest is transported from the orchards to a field broker(courtier) in a neighboring village, who spreads the blssoms on sheets in a thin layer and delivers them early on the following morning to the distillers. It is necessary to turn the blossoms over frequently during the overnight storage, otherwise they develop heat and ferment.

Distillation In the nineteenth century the oil was distilled by the growers chiefly in old-fashioned, small stills, heated with direct fire. Some of these are still employed, but today more than 9/10ths of all French neroli oil is produced in modern stills , heated indirectly through steam jackets or steam coils. Tjese stills, which hold about 700 liters, are charged with 250-300 kgs of floewers and 1.5 times that amount of water. The blossoms must float freely in boiling water(water distillation), as distillation with direct steam would result in an inferior yield. Orange blossoms like roses clog together on treatment with live steam, the steam then forming channels through the agglutinated mass and escaping without coming in contact with all the blossoms.

Distillation is usually carried out in such a way that 1 liter(1 kg) of distillation water(orange flower water) is obtained per 1 kilogram of charged orange flowers. This method incidentally, yields on the average about 1 gram of neroli oil. Obviously the length of distillation depends upon the quantity of water distilled over; in the usual still it takes 3 hours to obtain 1 liter of orange flower water per kilogram of flowers. The oil of neroli sits on top of the distillation water as a yellowish liquid and is easily separated in a Florentine flask. The distillation water retains in a dissolved state about 1/3 of the total amount of volatile oil distilled over and is therefore very fragrant..."

One of the things which can really help us appreciate such beautiful oils is, upon reading such descriptions, to use our creative imagination to put ourselves in the body of the person harvesting the flowers. This type of work is very demanding a requires a lot of patience and attention to the work at hand. The people who do this type of work are people of the earth. They know very well how to make their bodies work in harmony with the environment they are in. It is a different type of intelligence than what we are trained to have in the West.

Sometimes we mistakenly think that such people may not be intelligent or wise, but I do not think this is the case. I have found the farming peoples of India(which is the country with which I am most familiar) to be very ingenious, creative and hard working. It is a very deep subject but I just thought it might be beneficial to mention that we owe very much to the farming people of the world for their role in bringing us fine oils/ Last year was the first year I carried Neroli Bigarade oil. It was distilled in Spain. Many of my customers liked this oil and others preferred the Tunisian Neroli for which I did not have a source.


As with most other citrus fruits, the descendance of oranges is not known exactly. Despite the earlier belief that assumed a Chinese origin, it is now generally believed that oranges originate from Northern or North Eastern India.

The first oranges were brought to Europe by the Moors, probably already in the 9.th century. They were first grown in the Arabic realms in Sicily and Spain. These oranges, however, were not the sweet oranges chiefly known today, but the bitter oranges, also called sour oranges or Seville oranges, after the city of Sevilla which was the center of Arabic culture on the Iberic peninsular.

Sweet oranges have been introduced half a millennium later, probably by Portuguese traders.

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Neroli oil is a plant oil similar to bergamot produced from the blossom of the bitter orange tree (Citrus aurantium var. amara or Bigaradia).

The blossoms are gathered, usually by hand, in late April to early May. The oil is produced by water distillation, as the blossom is too fragile to endure steam distillation.

By the end of the 17th century, Anne Marie Orsini, duchess of Bracciano and princess of Nerola, introduced the essence of bitter orange tree as a fashionable fragrance by using it to perfume her gloves and her bath. Since then, the name of Neroli has been used to describe this essence. Neroli has a refreshing and distinctive, spicy aroma with sweet and flowery notes. It is one of the most widely used floral oils in perfumery. It is a non-toxic, non-irritant, non-sensitizing, non-photo-toxic substance. More than 12% of all modern quality perfumes use Neroli as their principal ingredient. It blends well with any citrus oil, various floral absolutes, and most of the synthetic components available on the market. Neroli oil is a classic element in fragrance design and one of the most commonly used in the industry. It is also used in flavors (alimentary) where it has a limited use.

Neroli oil is edible, and is a rumoured ingredient of Coca Cola if one is to believe any of the "secret" recipes which have surfaced over the years. Neroli is used in OpenCola.

Essential oils: The flowers of several citrus species yield essential oil called 'neroli oil' in the perfume trade. The flower oil of sweet orange (C. sinensis (L.) Osbeck) is called 'neroli Portugal', that of lemon (C. limon (L.) Burm.f.) 'neroli citronier'. Flowers of C. aurantium yield an essential oil called 'neroli bigarade oil'. The best quality is obtained from Bouquetier cultivars formerly from southern France and Italy and nowadays from Morocco and Tunisia. Neroli oil is a component of high quality perfumes and of the toilet water 'eau-de-Cologne'. Significant amounts (up to 25%) of aroma compounds remain in solution in the water left in the still after distillation of C. aurantium flowers. The oil obtained by extraction of these compounds is traded as 'orange flower water absolute' and is mainly used in the reconstitution of other essential oils and of the formerly popular 'orange flower water'.

Timber: The wood of sour orange is strong and takes a fine polish; it is sometimes used to make furniture. C. aurantium has been used extensively as a rootstock for other citrus species (particularly sweet orange, lemon and grapefruit) because it produces a well-developed root system and has a high degree of resistance to many important diseases (e.g. gummosis, root rot) and to cold. Its popularity as a rootstock has decreased, however, because of its susceptibility to the viral disease tristeza.

Other products: Neroli bigarade oil is sometimes used as a flavour component in food products, including alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, especially in tea. 'Petitgrain oil' is produced by distilling the leaves and green twigs of several citrus species; those of C. aurantium, including the Bouquetiers, yield 'petitgrain bigarade oil'. Petitgrain oils are often used as a substitute for the much more costly neroli oils. Petitgrain water absolute or 'eau-de-brouts' is the equivalent of orange flower water absolute and is obtained as a by-product from petitgrain bigarade oil. It enhances the 'naturalness' of several other fragrances, e.g. jasmine, neroli, ylang-ylang and gardenia. Petitgrain bigarade oil is used as a flavouring in food products, including alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. It also yields the essential oil 'bitter orange oil' (also called 'bitter orange peel oil') mainly used as a flavouring, such as 'orange sec' and 'triple sec' liqueur flavours, and to modify or strengthen the flavour of sweet-orange soft drinks. The average maximum concentration used in food products and drinks is about 0.04%. Food: The peel of the fruits of C. aurantium is used extensively in the manufacture of citrus marmalade. The sour fruit juice can be used like vinegar.

Essential oils (paragraph 1): On water distillation, 1 kg of Bouquetier flowers yield about 1 g neroli bigarade oil and about 0.7 l orange flower water. Neroli bigarade oil is a pale yellow, mobile oil becoming darker and more viscous on ageing. Its fragrance characteristics are a light, floral, pleasantly bitter top note, a floral, herbal, green body and a floral, orange flower dry-out lasting about 18 hours. The major chemical components of neroli bigarade oil are: linalool, limonene, linalyl acetate, nerolidol, geraniol, and methyl anthranilate. Extraction of flowers with supercritical CO2 yields a neroli bigarade oil much richer in linalyl acetate (23%) than neroli oil obtained by water distillation. The content of methyl anthranilate (1%) is also significantly higher. The olfactive and physical characteristics of neroli bigarade oils from the Mediterranean countries are very similar, but neroli bigarade oil from Haiti has a different odour and a distincly higher optical rotation (18-27 deg.). The odour intensity of the CO2 extract is about twice that of water-distilled oils. Essential oils (paragraph 2): Orange flower water absolute, prepared by extracting orange flower water several times with highly rectified petroleum ether, is a yellowish to orange-yellow or pale brownish oil which discolours significantly on ageing. It has a dry floral, musty herbaceous odour, reminiscent of mandarin leaf oil, petitgrain oil and slightly of orange flower absolute. Some sources describe it as having a fresh floral orange flower top note, a rich and heavy floral body with orange flower and animal notes and a floral, heavy, green, animalic dry-out lasting about 24 hours. Essential oils (paragraph 3): As neroli bigarade oil and orange flower water both contain only some of the aromatic components of the flowers, attempts have been made to obtain a more representative extract. Combining neroli bigarade oil and orange flower water absolute does not give the desired result. Extraction of flowers with petroleum ether and then extraction of the resulting concrete with alcohol yields orange flower absolute, a dark brown or orange-coloured viscous liquid with a very intensely floral, heavy and rich, warm, but also delicate and fresh, long-lasting odour, closely resembling the fragrance of fresh bitter orange blossoms. Its fragrance is not unlike that of jasmine, less intensely floral, but with a greater freshness. It is used in many perfumes and flavourings and combines well with a wide range of natural and artificial aroma products. Essential oils (paragraph 4): Petitgrain bigarade oil (also called bitter orange petitgrain oil) is obtained by steam distillation of the leaves and green twigs of C. aurantium. It is a pale yellow to amber, mobile liquid with a fresh, floral, orange flower top note, a bitter, floral, herbal and woody body and a dry herbal dry-out lasting about 36 hours. The main chemical compounds constituting petitgrain bigarade oil are linalool, linalyl acetate and the monoterpene aldehydes geranial and citronellal. Analysis of an oil from China indicated a very similar composition, but a higher proportion of linalool derivatives. Bitter orange peel oil is obtained by cold expression of the fruit peel of C. aurantium. It is only rarely made from Bouquetier cultivars. It is a dark-yellow to olive-yellow or pale-brownish-yellow, mobile liquid with a very characteristic fresh, yet bitter or dry taste, and a lasting, sweet undertone. It consists mainly of limonene (94%), with small quantities of myrcene (2%). Food: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has approved for food use and given 'generally recognized as safe' status to neroli bigarade oil, petitgrain bigarade oil and bitter orange peel oil respectively by the GRAS Nos 2771, 2855 and 2823. The Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) has published monographs on those 3 oils and the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) has issued restrictions relating to the concentrations permitted. In the European Union the oils have been registered under No 136n. Adulterations and substitutes: In Paraguay, C. aurantium occurs naturalized and is very common. It has been assumed that it is a hybrid with sweet orange, or a mutation and has been classified as 'Bittersweet orange'. It is the main source of Paraguayan C. aurantium essential oils. These oils differ markedly in fragrance and composition from Bouquetier and other C. aurantium oils. Neroli oil from Haiti is obtained by steam distillation of a mixture of flowers of C. aurantium and other Citrus species, mainly C. maxima (Burm.) Merrill.