Today we posted about one of our favorite Absolutes we carry, Jasmine…and that got us thinking. Maybe not enough people know the difference between an essential oil and an absolute? That's right, it’s educational hour on the Wyndmere Blog.
There are several different methods of extraction used to obtain the essential oil of a plant. Today we want to talk about two of the most common methods - steam distillation (which is mainly used to produce essential oils) and solvent extraction (which produces absolutes, like our Jasmine Absolute).
Steam distillation is a process in which the plant material (flowers, leaves, twigs) is placed in a still. Steam is then passed through this chamber, releasing the aromatic molecules from the plant material and turning them into vapor. These vaporized plant compounds then go through a cooling process, after which they are collected in a liquid form in a chamber called a “separator.” Here, the oil naturally separates from the water and is siphoned off - this is our essential oil! The water that is a by-product of this process is called a hydrosol.
Essential oils are primarily produced through the distillation process, but some flowers (like Jasmine) are too delicate to be subjected to the heat from steam distillation and are extracted using solvents instead.
Instead of using steam, solvent extraction uses organic solvents such as hexane to gently isolate the aromatic compounds of plant material. After the solvent is added to the plant material it is then evaporated, leaving a waxy aromatic substance called a concrete. The concrete is then filtered using alcohol to remove the waxes and non-aromatic components, leaving behind only the liquid Absolute oil.
Solvent extraction methods tend to produce a finer fragrance than any steam or heat distillation method, which is why absolutes are often preferred for perfumery. An absolute typically has an extremely high concentration of fragrance, and their aroma tends to be more “true-to-nature,” or closer to the natural smell of the plant itself.
The bright aroma of an Absolute is a wonderful addition to any home apothecary! Try making your own signature perfume at home, or check out this recipe for a spring floral bath bomb using a few of our favorite Absolutes.
Please let us know if you have any other questions on this (or any other) topic!