Part 2: Petitgrain oil and orange leaf absolute

This is the second part in the series of ‘The bitter orange tree: bigarade, petitgrain, orange leaf, neroli, and orange blossom’.

biolandes petitgrain moroco

The main extracts from bitter orange leaves are petitgrain oil and orange leaf absolute.

Petitgrain oil is produced by steam distillation of leaves and twigs of the bitter orange tree (Citrus aurantium subspecies amara). The video below shows a traditional petitgrain oil production in Paraguay. Traditionally, the branches are harvested manually with machetes and transferred to the on-site distillery. The wood still is filled with the harvested leaves and branches before it is covered with a lid and sealed with wet clay. The resulting petitgrain oil is immiscible and forms a layer on top of water. Usually, 500 to 600 kg of leaves and twigs yield 1 kg of petitgrain oil.

The oil is intensely bittersweet, woody, fresh floral, and with a green undertone. It is mainly produced in Paraguay from October to March, but a higher-grade oil comes in small quantities from France, Southern Italy, Morocco, and Tunisia in June and July. Petitgrain oil from Paraguay has a characteristic bitter green note with a slight floral touch of neroli oil. Tunisian variety possesses also a bitter green note, but is the most floral amongst the origins of petitgrain oil.

Sometimes, the leaves are solvent-extracted, and around 500 kg of leaves yield 1 kg of orange leaf absolute. It has a powerful bitter green note, but is a step down from petitgrain oil; its dry down is soft and with a marine facet. Interestingly, even the water by-product from the steam distillation of the leaves and twigs can be further solvent-extracted. It takes up to 3300 kg of leaves and twigs to produce just 1 kg of orange leaf water absolute that has a deep bitter green note precisely recalling plucked leaves. It is also slightly smoky and long-lasting. In any case, I imagine these two types of absolute to be incredibly expensive!

In terms of composition, petitgrain oil can comprise up to 80% of the 2:1 mixture of linalyl acetate and linalool. There are also geranyl acetate, neryl acetate, and α-terpinyl acetate that are important. Petitgrain oil also contains geraniol, nerol, α-terpineol, nerolidol, as well as the woody spathulenol and isospathulenol — both of which are constituents of clary sage oil. Interestingly, small amounts of high-impact compounds like the violet-smelling β-ionone and rose-smelling β-damascenone can be found in petitgrain oil. Certain aldehydes, present in minor quantities, also contribute to the character of petitgrain oil. Some aldehydes impart strong, exotic, spicy odours. 3-ethyl-benzaldehyde, on the other hand, possesses a benzaldehyde-like odour with a mimosa undertone. Yet, another aldehyde confers a fresh peel note. There is also a galbanum-reminiscent green note of 2-isopropyl-3-methoxypyrazine. And though extracted from a citrus plant, nootkatone and other typical components of citrus oils are not found in petitgrain oil. Such is the complexity of a deceptively simple perfumery material that is petitgrain oil.

Petitgrain in Perfumes

As with many citrus ingredients, petitgrain oil is classically related to the eau de cologne genre. For example, Original Eau de Cologne (Farina, 1709) by Johann Maria Farina contains 20% petitgrain oil. The classic 4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser (Mülhens, 1792) by Wilhelm Mülhens features 11.3% petitgrain oil. However, petitgrain oil can also provide natural brightness to the aldehydic floral genre, and the iconic Chanel N°5 (1921) in the original formula is one such prime example that contains 1% petitgrain oil. Moreover, petitgrain oil is used to brighten oriental or floral compositions, but it is rarely dosed more than 2% in modern times. Such a relatively high dose of 2% is found in Habit Rouge (Guerlain, 1965), Eau Sauvage (Dior, 1966), and Eau d’Hadrien (Annick Goutal, 1993).

Beyond these, petitgrain oil is also used as a substitute for the more expensive neroli oil in functional products. This is because of its relatively inexpensive price and good performance even in bases such as air fresheners and soaps. Still, the high content of linalyl acetate makes petitgrain oil unstable in strong detergent.

Part 3: Neroli oil and orange blossom absolute

Sources: biolandes.com, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors

  1. Zarzo M.Sensors (Basel, Switzerland). What is a Fresh Scent in Perfumery? Perceptual Freshness is Correlated with Substantivity. 2013;13(1):463-483.
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Review: Dior Homme — 5.0 points

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I say Dior Homme (2005) deserves its place on a pedestal of classics. Rarely do mainstream launches proceed without deliberation on market tests, but Dior Homme did. And its composition does not conform either: at the centre of it is iris, a material that does not have a firm ground on the masculine territory like, say, lavender or geranium. Yet perfumer Olivier Polge did an astounding job, thereby firmly establishing its place amongst masculine fragrances.

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Iris, which has the connotation of powder puff and lipstick, is not exactly a fresh note. However, in Dior Homme, its carrot facet is cleverly extrapolated with green herbs to give a fresh top note. A combination of bergamot, lavandin, geranium, and carrot seed renders the impression of aromatic green herbs. Cardamom and coriander provide a spicy contrast. Such cool herbs introduce freshness to the dense note.

The lively iris theme at heart revolves around 0.25% of orris absolute with its rich powder, carrot-like green, and chills. A peachy glow, the fruity touch of δ-damascone at 0.11%, and violet-like ionones warm and sweeten the composition. A radiant floral touch keeps the heart limpid. The glow and shimmer impart such clarity and polish, rendering an otherwise austere and sometimes dull note of iris vibrant.

Towards the base, the composition is warm and inviting. Here, vetiver is sweetened by vanilla, coumarin, and musk with a crisp ambery note of Ambrox. The resultant gourmand sweetness is brilliantly offset by the combination of myrrh and frankincense oil each at 0.5%. Patchouli conjures a surprising touch of bitter cocoa when paired with powdery iris. The character of vanillic woods strongly contrasts with that of iris, and pairing them together creates a gripping tension between warm and cool notes. It is riveting.

Offering iris as a masculine fragrance untested is a bold and risky move, but in doing so Dior and Polge have created a milestone with a memorable character and a lasting influence. The iris is rendered surprisingly fresh and spicy, and its rooty chills polished by radiant florals and glow of fruits. Then, pitted against vanillic woods and incense, it makes Dior Homme unforgettable. It is tenacious and its suave sillage of grand cru cocoa and supple leather will impress. Its boldness has certainly left a mark in perfumery.

A note on the concentrations: Since its launch, Dior Homme has been a success, spawning various incarnations. The versions which are clearly related to the original character are Dior Homme Intense (2011), which is an eau de parfum, and Dior Homme Parfum (2014) by perfumer François Demachy. The eau de parfum is like a creamy, sweet leather-cocoa as the levels of vanillin and coumarin are increased. For the parfum, its richness is overall increased, creating a dark supple leather; and the emphasis shifts to the fond with fumes of frankincense and myrrh — the blotter has been oozing these dark swirls even after three weeks from the first spray. The longevity of both is, likewise, sterling. Their presence also lingers long after one has disappeared.

Sources: fragrantica.com, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors

Review: Grès Cabochard — 5.0 points

Inspired by the ferocious whip of Bandit (Robert Piguet, 1944), perfumer Bernard Chant took to the leathery character and created Cabochard (Grès, 1959). The leather accord was softened and balanced with verdancy and florals. Cabochard itself would become a legacy amongst the family of leather chypres and inspire a number of perfumery’s classics such as Aramis (1965) and Chanel N°19 (1970).

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From the start, the green combination of galbanum, armoise, and basil contrasts nicely with the earthy character. Styrallyl acetate in combination with aldehyde C-11 (undecylenic aldehyde) contribute to the green floral aspect. To complement the green, there is the freshness of mandarin and bergamot with linalool and linalyl acetate. The opening is certainly reminiscent of another era: bitter green with sharp freshness. It is bright and sparkling.

The composition reveals the floral heart as expected of a classical chypre. It is dominated by a bright jasmine accord different from those of Ma Griffe (Carven, 1946) or Miss Dior (1947), a fresh rose note, and hyacinth. Its radiance is imparted by a muguet note. Also, the relatively high content of sandalwood compared to other chypres provides the apparent softness to Cabochard. Such pairing of the jasmine accord and sandalwood would later be found in the masculine leather chypre territory of Aramis.

Then, glimpses of leather appear. Along with isobutyl quinoline, balsamic benzoin, a castoreum note, and a costus note give Cabochard its leather character. Interestingly, there is a similarity between Cabochard and Aramis in their use of isobutyl quinoline with the floral-powdery musk ambrette, which is now banned due to safety concerns.

The warmth of its chypre accord is built around patchouli, oakmoss, animalic notes, woody notes of vetiveryl acetate and cedryl acetate, and the amber note of Dynamone, which is a base derived from cistus. The accord is sweetened by methyl ionone. The use of aldehyde C-18 (γ-nonalactone) to lend a soft creamy touch emulates the use of peachy aldehyde C-14 (γ-undecalactone) in earlier chypres like that of Mitsouko (Guerlain, 1919). Spicy notes of cinnamon, clove, and a carnation accord provide a bright contrast to the dusky leathery character. The vegetal musk character of ambrettolide finally echoes the verdant top.

Cabochard is one of the few surviving leather chypre amongst feminine fragrances. Thanks to the brilliance of perfumer Bernard Chant, he extrapolated the iconic leather of Bandit. He softened the leather and gave it verdant florals. The interesting use of materials also gave Cabochard its creative twist and character. It stands on its own as another classic in the family. Although the reformulations may have rendered Cabochard more docile now, but one can still see a glimpse of its complex transformation.

Sources: fragrancex.com, Perfumery Practices and Principles