How is perfume made? Today we have modern technologies to extract or distil fragrances from plants, but how was this done before? Until very recently, a technique called “enfleurage” was used to create floral fragrances.
What is enfleurage?
A short history of enfleurage
According to historians, enfleurage was used to create perfume in ancient times, so this technique is nothing new. It was widely used during the 18th century, when wearing perfume was the height of fashion and a sign of social status. The best-known enfleurage technique was developed in Grasse in France to extract the fragrance from delicate plants that could not withstand distillation. Since the 1930s, this technique has been abandoned and replaced by extraction which involves the use of volatile solvents.
What does enfleurage involve?
Enfleurage is a technique that extracts scents and oils from plants. The advantage of this technique is that even the most fragile plants can be used. Depending on the plants that are chosen, the oil or the fat with which the plants are mixed can be heated. It is this oil or fat that traps the plants’ fragrance. The result is then filtered to remove the pieces of flowers, then washed with alcohol to retain the fragrance and nothing else.
What are the differences between hot and cold enfleurage?
What is cold enfleurage?
Cold enfleurage is only used for the most fragile plants and flowers, such as jasmine and daffodil: these flowers cannot be heated because this would alter their fragrance. The flowers, which must be as fresh as possible, are put on a layer of fat at room temperature and are then left for at least a day. The fat, which has trapped the fragrance of the flowers, is collected later. This must be done several times so that the fat is particularly perfumed. The flowers are removed by hand and the fat is cleaned with alcohol. After the alcohol evaporates, only the “absolute” remains.
What about hot enfleurage?
Hot enfleurage is also called maceration: plants that can withstand the heat, such as mimosa, are put in oil or fat and then heated in a bain-marie to between 40° and 60°, depending on the plant. This process lasts two hours, during which the mixture is stirred regularly. In the past, the sun’s rays were used to heat the oil and flowers. The final infusion must be filtered and then washed with alcohol to obtain a product with a high perfume content.
This technique is no longer used today because it took a significant amount of time and required a large quantity of flowers for limited production. More modern techniques, like headspace technology and carbon dioxide extraction, are preferred today because they can capture the unique scents of fragile flowers.
Read our article on expression to find out more about this perfume-making technique.