Did I mention in my posts that Perfumery can be an overwhelming journey?  From figuring out what to combine, how to measure, what tools to use, what books to read (and where to find them!), where to obtain aroma products, how to build a perfume….the subjects are endless.  As if this was not enough, there is always product confusion to add to the mix (pun intended).  Ambrarome? Ambrox? Ambrofix?  Ambermax?  Florol or Florosa? Aurantia? Aurantiol?  There’s enough to stump even the most daring perfumery beginner.

When it comes to aroma-chemicals, each perfumery house calls their product different.  This is where knowing your CAS# comes in handy.  You will often find the same product going by different names, depending on who provides it (i.e. Firmenich, Givaudan, IFF, etc.). However, when it comes to essential oils, this is a whole other subject.  In Aromatherapy, the quality of the oil in important, but many oils are easier to choose.  While oils like Lavender may have different kinds, a basic good quality Lavender works for therapeutic needs.  

Not for perfumery.

In perfumery, which specific kind of Lavender you use will have a different impact on your overall perfume, often by quite a bit.  Lavender Absolute (a gorgeous oil, by the way) is not the same as Lavender Bulgaria, which is not the same as Lavender High Elevation, which is not the same as Lavender Maillette.   Sometimes, the nuances in these oils are hard to perceive, except in the dry-down (as the perfume evaporates on your skin), while at other times, these differences in scent are quite apparent.  Sample Lavender Bulgaria next to Lavender Absolute and the difference is distinct. Confused yet? There’s more.

A good quality Petitgrain Bigarade is a basic oil to use in aromatherapy.  But it can confuse a beginner aromatherapist when they suddenly see their favorite reseller listing oils like Peitgrain Lemon with the disclaimer that it is to be used solely for perfumery.  A bigger confusion can be to see Neroli Oil, which is orange flower, next to Orange Blossom oil sometimes called Orange Flower Absolute.  I mean, flower and blossom, both flowers, right?  Well, technically yes, but not when speaking of these oils and definitely not when talking perfumery.   If you are speaking with a perfumer and mention Neroli, the response will be very different than if you mentioned Orange Blossom Absolute.

This is why I thought I would write this post about Orange Blossom oil and variations sur le meme theme, (hey, why not make it sound like a French perfume?).  The reason is that there is often confusion among beginners when faced with oils by the names Orange Blossom, Neroli, Petitgrain, Petitgrain Paraguay, Petitgrain Citronnier, Bergamotier, Sur Fleurs and a few others which are seemingly from the same plant.   However, these variations have to do with quality, some with extraction methods and some with botanical origins, all which are very important when crafting a perfume.  Let me try and clear up some of the confusion.

Orange Blossoms

To begin with, Neroli Oil is one of the “classic” materials in eaux de cologne of the “Maria Farina” type and is among the staples of perfumery.  But there is a difference between Neroli and Orange Blossom, even though they are both extracted from the Orange Flower of the Bitter Orange Tree, Citrus Aurantium var. Amara (‘amara,’ in the Latin name for these oils, meaning it is the bitter version), both extracted from the bitter orange tree flower. 

Orange Blossom Absolute

Orange Blossom (Flower) Absolute, as if things were not complicated enough, is also known as Orange Flower Absolute.  The difference between this oil and Neroli is that the absolute is extracted using solvents, which are then removed (albeit some always remain).  Orange Flower Absolute is a dark brown or dark orange colored, somewhat viscous liquid with a very intensely floral, heavy and rich, warm, but also delicate and fresh, long-lasting odor.

Neroli

Neroli (also known as Orange Flower — but without the absolute), on the other hand, is extracted through distillation, creating an oil that smells quite different from Orange Blossom Absolute, especially when it comes to perfumery.  Neroli is sharper and more ‘cologne’ like while Orange Blossom Absolute is headier, heavier and more herbaceous in scent.  The latter is more valuable in perfumery, but both have their place.  The odor is very powerful, light and refreshing, floral with a peculiar sweet top note, but its tenacity is rather poor. This oil is primarily a “top-note” material in perfumery. [1]

Petitgrain Bigaradier

Related to these two previous oils is Petigrain Bigaradier (or Bigarade, the French term for the ‘Bitter Orange tree’), an oil extracted through distillation of leaves and twigs of the orange tree.  Petitgrain is related to these oils so much, in fact, that Orange Blossom and Neroli replacement bases all include it. The scent is pleasant, fresh-floral, sweet odor, reminiscent of orange flowers, with a slightly woody-herbaceous undertone. The terpenes in the oil are generally held responsible for the characteristic bitterness which in this connection also refers to a certain freshness. [2]  Alternatively, this oil is offered in the ‘terpenless’ form, providing for a less harsh scent.

Petigrain sur Fleurs 

Petigrain sur Fleurs (sometimes called Petitgrain Neroli) is distilled from the leaves, twigs and remaining post-harvest orange blossoms (hence, Neroli) from the Bitter Orange tree.  It is an oil with distinct, fresh, green floral, linalyl acetate-like, somewhat sharp, terpene-like aroma with a soft, sweet-woody, tenacious undertone [3].

Petitgrain Paraguay

The tree cultivated in Paraguay to produce petitgrain essential oil is a hybrid between the bitter orange (Citrus aurantium) and sweet orange (Citrus sinensis). The top note is somewhat harsh in comparison to the other Petitgrain, but it quickly gives way to a heavy and sweet body note of typical petitgrain character: bitter-floral, with a sweet and slightly woody undertone. The dry down, which comes quickly since the odor of this oil is not very tenacious, is sweet and slightly woody-floral, quite delicate.  This oil is not interchangeable with Petitgrain Bigarade and you will see formulas will specify one or the other because of difference in scent and its effect in the overall perfume.

Petitgrain also comes in other varieties, and not all from the Orange tree:

Petitgrain Bergamotier (some call it the finest of the Petitgrain) is extracted from the Bergamot tree’s leaves and twigs.  As Hermitage Oils explains: “Aromatically petitgrain bergamotier essential oil is a stunning beauty, very powerful, showcasing green neroli, classic bergamot citrus, with astringent and elegant soapy neroli floral nuances. The dry down has aspects of orange blossom floral water absolute.”

Petitgrain Citronnier (Lemon) is extracted from the leaves of the lemon tree, much like Petitgrain is from the orange tree.  The scent is fresh lemon and somewhat woody, while still with petitgrain character.

Also, there is Petitgrain Brouts, also known as Petitgrain Water Absolute and is a solvent extracted material from orange leaves hydrolate (flower water).  Used sparingly, it imparts leafy freshness and naturalness to almost all compositions. It can be used in colognes, citrus and wood accords, a must for building petitgrain and neroli notes, improving modern green accords and floral bouquets.

And finally, there is the oil extracted from the fruit rind of the Bitter Orange simply called ‘Bitter Orange Oil’ as opposed to the regular Sweet Orange Essential oil.

Farina Eau de Cologne

Each of these oils are used for different reasons, as their effects in a perfume are not the same.  They are also used in varying degrees, depending on the perfume you’re creating.  A more affordable perfume will have the lesser expensive varieties and even use replacement bases to extend the regular oil.  If you’re making a high-class perfume, those for which you can easily pay $400, then you’d use Orange Blossom Absolute, also Petitgrain Bergamotier and even some Petitgrain Brouts.  But it is eventually up to the perfumer, the final scent and the budget, to decide which one is best.

Replacement Bases

The aroma-chemicals that can be used to create Orange Blossom and Neroli replacement are various, such as Aurantiol, Methyl Anthranilate, Nerol, Nerolin Bromelia, Neryl Acetate, Oranger Crystals (also called beta-naphtyl methyl ketone) and quite a few others. A good Orange Blossom base can be created using Benzyl Acetate, Methyl Benozate, Linalool, PEA, Nerol, Petitgrain Bigarade, Methyl Anthranilate, Orange Blossom Absolute and Iso Eugenol, alongside a few others. This base can then be used to either replace or extend the more expensive Orange Blossom Absolute in a perfume. You can find formulas to some excellent replacement bases in the book The Production, Manufacture and Application of Perfumes, Vol. 2 by W.A. Poucher.

Needless to say, I simplified things here to help better understand the differences in these oils. I could write a whole chapter on this subject and many have done it. As always, my suggestion is that you obtain as many of these oils as you can and do a paper strip test of your own to compare the initial and dry down scent for each over several days.  This will make things a bit more clear in your mind as to what oil you’d want to use depending on the final scent you’re looking to create.  Not all suppliers sell all of these, so you may have to obtain them from different sources.  Many sellers will offer samples when you make a purchase and some will actually have sample ‘sets’ of various Neroli and Petitgrain oils.


References

[1][2] Perfume and Flavor Materials Of Natural Origin, by Steffen Arctander. 1960. Pg. 435 and 525.

[3] Eden Botanicals.

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