INGREDIENT SPOTLIGHT: Rose – Is it Equivalent to the Price of Gold?
Rose, one of the most traditional and ancient ingredients in the art of perfumery, has been recently enchanting younger generations, due to the modern and fresh spin perfumers are adding to the classic rose accord. Renowned for its enchanting qualities dating back to 2300 BC in the likes of literature, alchemy, mythology, royalty and art, it has an undeniably simplistic beauty contrasted with an extremely complex aroma. That unique aroma and the quality of the finest rose oil makes it immortal like diamonds — the oil never decays, and becomes lovelier with each year. This status thus grants it the symbolism of beauty, love, romance and regality. We couldn’t leave such an iconic ingredient out of our spotlight series. Below, we clarify a few of the mysteries behind its sweet and romantic scent, the different varietals used in perfumery and why its value in perfumery is so tremendous.
The first thing there is to understand about roses is that there are about 150 species under the Genus Rosa. But only two of those species are used for the production of natural rose oil that is the basis for rose fragrances — Rosa x Damascena and Rosa x Centifolia (with many varietals found beneath these two species)
- Rosa x Damascena: The petals range in color from light pink to light red and the flowers have extremely specific environmental requirements for their cultivation. Primarily, only two countries can grow enough roses to produce the essential oil, Bulgaria and Turkey, hence the names Bulgarian and Turkish Rose.
1. Bulgarian Rose: fresh, warm, extremely complex, sweet and full-bodied, this rose is cultivated in the Rose Valley in Bulgaria, specifically between the Balkan range and the Sredna Gora mountains, due to its fertile soil. It is the finest rose oil that a perfumer can buy, its growing conditions so fickle and precise, many have attempted to grow the Bulgarian varietal in other areas like France, Romania, and China, with no success. The pattern of rainfalls, the level of humidity and cloudiness in May and June all play a part in prolonging the flowering period, suppressing oil evaporation, and increasing the yield of oil and its quality. The cultivation of one bush requires pruning it, ploughing it up, and earthing it up in the winter, then turning over the ground in spring, watering, feeding it, and treating against pests. All this hard work leads to endless rose-picking in May, where 1 million petals makes only 1kg of rose oil, a modern-day yield. Following water distillation, the oil yield is then tested by chemists using gas chromatography, and then finally stored in copper containers lined with tin, with a quality certificate attached. The many specificities required to cultivate this Bulgarian queen ratifies its high price at approximately $3,115.00 for 8oz, which also varies from season to season.
2. Turkish Rose: softly sweet, with tangy green and spicy notes and a fresh scent, this rose is cultivated in the Mediterranean province of Isparta in Turkey. Its climate varies dramatically from Bulgaria— cold and snowy winters, very dry and hot summers, but during spring, the area undergoes a very rainy season which makes it possible to cultivate the Rosa Damascena species. The city is known in the middle east as the City of Roses, so much so that they incorporated tours to the plantations accompanied by the opportunity to lay in a 12 inch bed of flowers while sipping on their traditional rose sherbet (a drink made of fruit and flowers essences), with bites of Marzipan or Turron in between (desserts that use water and essence made of roses). Almost as renowned as the Bulgarian rose, the Turkish counterpart is a highly valued product in the perfume market, but due to the hotter temperatures, yields a lower quality smell, thus making it the more affordable option and ideal for mass-produced perfumery, at $1,784 for 8oz.
- Rosa x Centifolia: Also called Rose de Mai or cabbage rose for its multiple layers of petals, which vary from different shades of pink, from the lightest baby pink to a very intense barbie pink. This species is grown primarily in Grasse, the French city known as the perfume capital of the world. The warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters combined with the small variation in the temperature range create the perfect environment for the culturing of this species. Its scent is clear and sweet, with strong floral and rosy notes that transcends into a spicy, sweet, honey-dew balsamic aroma. This type of rose is very commonly used in aromatherapy given that the solvent extraction method used to derive the oil results in a less concentrated final product. Slightly less expensive than the Bulgarian, Rose de Mai’s value in the market averages around $2,040 for 8oz.
In addition to the various species and their subtypes, there are two methods of extracting the essential oil from the organic material of the rose petals. Steam distillation, which produces the oil called rose otto, and solvent extraction, which results in the oil called rose absolute.
1. Rose Otto: Usually possesses a very deep dark olive-green color and it’s primary characteristic is the formation of crystals in ambient temperature.The best oil is distilled from newly opened flowers, picked in the cool morning hours before the sun has warmed away the aroma. The natural waxes in the oil begin to set and become semi-solid, which is a good identifier to verify whether your essential oil has not been stretched or adulterated with chemical fillers. The oil changes to its liquid state by being gently warmed by the heat of human hands while holding the bottle. This is a highly expensive oil due to its very time-consuming process, which produces a very concentrated oil; the process requires 6000 lbs to 8000 lbs of petals to produce about 2 lbs of rose oil. Due to the concentration of the oil and the heat used in the distillation process, Rose Otto’s scent is very strong and with little resemblance to the fresh odor of roses.
2. Rose Absolute: Much thicker than rose otto, it has a warm reddish brown color and its aroma is much more faithful to the scent of fresh roses than the otto. Solvent extraction provides a greater yield than distillation which is why the absolute is less expensive than the otto. About 10 pounds of the concrete can be extracted from 10,000 pounds of petals. The concrete is then mixed with alcohol to be refined, generating a yield of 67% from the concrete. Some aromatherapists prefer to use only essential oils because they feel that the chemical solvents used in the extraction of an absolute have a negative effect on the properties of the oil.
Rose in Perfumery
From cultivating the bushes to refining the essential oil, then in combining it with other accords during the perfumery process, the whole process of creating a rose fragrance is extremely time consuming and complex. Evaluating and interpreting its chemical makeup doesn’t fall far behind. The scent of a rose, depending on which type, can entail evaluating over 300 chemical compounds. Ironically, 90% of the odor originates from only four compounds that make up only 1% of the entire chemical makeup of it. That rose odor can then be broken down into 6 main notes (scents): damask nasturtium, orris, violets, apple, clove, and lemon, but the prominence of each of these scents change based on the time of day and on environmental conditions.
Ultimately, the complexity of the growth and extraction process of the rose oil and the affect this process has in perfumery is masked when you pick up a beautiful bottle of rose perfume, smell its elegant and feminine aroma, and place it on your neck, instantly being subconsciously transported to the faraway lands from where the roses originated.