Thursday, April 22, 2010

Orange tree...patron saint of perfumers!

Today I'm going to share my experiences with the varied and delightful extracts the citrus trees gives particular the orange tree. It's one of the most versatile of all Scent sources, and gives us a collection of amazingly different scents too!
It provides us with:

-Orange essential oil from the peel
-Orange juice extract 
-Bergamot from Bitter Orange 
-Orange flower absolute from the flowers
-Neroli steam destilled from the flowers
-Petigrain from the green twigs of Bitter Orange

Then of course there's also the huge variety of different citrus oils...but I think they are better handled in a seperate blog!

So let's start with Orange essential oil.
It's a remarkably simple oil to extract, being made by cold pressing the peel of the orange. It doesn't keep terribly well, like all citrus oils and will lose it's scent intensity as it oxidises. (This process doesn't actually render the oil "off" or dangerous to use contrary to some articles, but it does weaken it's odour). It, again like all other citrus oils, is best kept in the fridge.  It is also photo-toxic, which means it intensifies the way skin reacts to sunlight, so it's not a good idea to smother yourself in orange oil if you are heading to the beach! Whether or not this applies to it's use in perfume is one of the many things independent perfumers argue about. The lumbering industry watchdog IFRA has managed to instill such fear in the perfume industry over the subject that you will not find ANY real orange oil in conventional scented products.
Me personally, having peeled and eaten oranges at the beach, think it's all a bit ridiculous. I wouldn't add it in large quantities to a bronzing lotion, but beyond that.....there are special "non-photo toxic" version offered by some of the refiners, but the scent just isn't the same....
This joyous sweet and tangy oil is one of the best ingredients to warm and liven up a perfume. It adds life and zest to any blend and brings out happy notes in bases like Patchouli and Vetiver. It's yummy sweet tangy quanlity gives such sunny magic to any blend...As I said before, it really brings life and lift to all the base notes...and if you pair it up (in hint amounts) to florals such as jasmine and rose, you bring out a warm, zingy, playful side to them that is just lovely......
I'm a bit of a citrus nut and have used them in numerous perfumes over the years...but probably the best example of how orange brings life and joy to a blend is my "Love Potion" perfume. Here you have a deep, succulent blood orange oil combined with musky jasmine and sexy vetiver....and the combo gives it a "wow" factor and an amazing sense of "alive" that makes the perfume live up to it's name!

Orange Juice Extract is a new addition to the perfumers pallette. It is a concentrated extract created from the actual juice itself, and brings a lovely fresh fruity flavour to blends. It's not as strong as the oil from the peel and quite astringent, but a nice new toy to play with!

Bergamot is also a cold pressed oil, this time from the bitter orange. It has a softer, sweeter scent totally different from the warm fruitiness of it's cousin. It is a major ingredient in traditional eau de cologne and is also used as a flavouring in earl grey tea!  It has something a bit anal and very refined about it and it always makes me think of English Afternoon tea, with her Ladyship sitting on a perfect english lawn, sipping tea from delicate china cups.... it's a traditional ingredient in eau de cologne and often appears in mens scents. Though like sweet orange oil, IFRA has chased it out of modern perfumery with a vengeance.

OK, and from there we move on to the more mysterious side of Orange: the flowers!
Every year when my orange tree flowers I spend hours out in the garden with my nose buried in the blossoms. I collect the petals as they fall from the tree and fill bowls of them that waft their beautiful scent through the house. The bees go absolutly wild, buzzing in ecstatic frenzy as they wriggle around, collecting nectar and pollen, obviously totally intoxicated by the scent. And this is of course exactly what it is designed to do! Flower scents are Mother Natures herbal aphrodisiacs, desinged just entice and hypnotize the insects into taking part in their sexual dance of reproduction!
Orange flower in particular has a musky depth combined with an airy lightness that always reminds me of images of the Faery Queen. It is an entirely otherworldly scent, truly magical.
There are two different extracts of Orange flower available to perfumers, and they to me are quite different:

Orange Flower Absolute is extracted with solvents which are then evaporated off, so you end up with a conentrated version of the aroma. It is deep and musky, with a caramel like sweetness to it along with yummy green notes. It's quite a dominant scent, a definite middle note which will tend to take over a scent unless you use it in small quantities. I've used it in a number of custom design perfumes for clients, including one of my proudest achievements, "Faerie" which I designed for Australian artist Helen Wells. Here, it's Faerie like quality was just what was needed to capture the fey quality of Helen herself. (I'll be blogging more about the creative journey of this scent in future weeks. Helen has promised to write about the story from her perspective, which should make great reading!)
I have a variety of different Orange Flower absolutes here, all of which are different and have varying degrees of muskiness, warmth and lightness, and a delightful Orange Water absolute from Eden Botanicals which has a lightness to it as well as an almost lotus like watery quality...yummy!

Neroli is also made from orange flowers, but it's obtained by steam extraction. And this seems to bring out a far lighter side of the blossom. It leaves behind the middle musk notes and concentrates the heady, bright slightly tangy greeness of it.
Neroil has been used by perfumers for centuries. Along with Rose, it is probably the most famous of ingredients of traditional Italian and French perfumes of the past centuries. I have countless old recipes that use neroli, particularly traditional eau de colognes where it's uplifting freshness adds a delightful feminine touch to a blend. My absolute favourite is one from Butch from Anatolian Treasures. It is soft and clear and totally enchanting and lacks the slightly astringent note some other Nerolis have.
In any more concentrated perfumes however, it becomes and interesting and at times challenging. It has a very dominant, almost eukalypt like top note to it that I find tends to ride above anything else you add it to.
I have one perfume that has been sitting on my blends in progress shelf now for 2 years. It fascinates me because it is so multilayered. I was originally trying to create a lovely French Flower Garden in Spring scent, and Neroli seemed to obvious choice as a central note. But it insisted on dominating the scent and overriding the gentler rose and other floral notes I wanted to have in the forefront to such an extent that I eventually took it out of the mix. Only to discover that the previous amazing tenacity I had achieved suddenly dissapeared! For some reason, Neroli seems to attach itself to the midle and base notes of a scent and change them, both in scent and also in tenacity, which is something I have never found in a topnote before!
So now I have this blend sitting there waiting for me to find a name and place for it. It's really multi layered, which is part of the problem. A good perfume has a continuity to it from the first sniff to the remaining base you end up with on your skin after an hour or so...and this one just refuses to conform! It changes so much from head note to base that I just don't know what to do with it, delightful as it is......

And finally there's Petigrain.
I like Petigrain. I have a large bottle of a particularly fine one sitting on my shelf that I sniff regularly. It refreshes me and clears my head when I'm getting foggy....and again, it's a lovely ingredient for eau de colognes.
It has an interesting graphite pencil note to it that fascinates me and I'm pretty sure is one of the main ingredients in "Grey Flannel", that distinguished mens cologne I used to wear as a teenager.
But it's also not easy to work with. The graphite note combined with it's astringent green clarity make it the coolest of the Orange scents. Like Neroil, it doesn't combine and "play nice" with other ingredients, so unless you are happy for a dominant astringent top note, it ain't gonna work.

There's also other combination desitllations of flowers and twigs, such as "petigrain sur fleur", and destilations from the flowers of various other citrus tree, and I'm sure some of you perfumers out there are going to pop up to remind me about your particular favourite which I haven't covered!
So please feel free to add your experiences to the comment section!


  1. Hi Ambrosia,

    What a fabulous blog, I'm loving reading your scented thoughts and look forward to your future musing! :-)

    I had a chuckle to myself when you described Orange Blossom Abs in your Faerie perfume ~ for me Faerie is the perfect way to characterise the essence ~ faerie with cheeky attitude. Burnished and slow flowing golden syrup, lingeringly ethereal, Neroli/Petitgrain with a molten backbone. :-P

    Neroli would have to be my favourite though, wasn't always, however she has really grown on me over the years. Her dried down scent I just adore, turns all husky and even a little smoky.

    More please! *grin*

  2. Hi Ambrosia,
    Really great article! I enjoyed it. Have you tried Bitter Orange absolute? It's my favorite. I got mine from Liberty and it was reasonably priced compared to others.
    Funny, you mentioned Orange Juice extract. I was just writing about that myself (as part of the fruity scents blog.) I love it, but keep trying to figure out what to blend it with. It's very distinct.

  3. This is a great article and good to know. I have been having such a hard time lately finding mens cologne for my boyfriend.