Enfleurage is an ancient and traditional method used in the perfume industry to extract the fragrance of delicate flowers that cannot withstand the high heat and pressure used in steam distillation or other extraction processes. This technique dates back to ancient civilizations and was particularly popular during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Though it has largely been replaced by more modern extraction methods, enfleurage remains a significant part of perfumery history.
The process of enfleurage involves the following steps:
- Petals Collection: The first step is to carefully collect the fragrant flowers’ petals. Flowers with delicate and volatile scents, such as jasmine, tuberose, and rose, are commonly used in enfleurage.
- Grease-Saturated Frames: Enfleurage frames are used in this process, consisting of two parts: a wooden frame with glass or metal plates, and a layer of odorless animal or vegetable fat called “enfleurage grease.” The grease is usually obtained from animal fats like lard or vegetable oils like coconut oil.
- Petals Layering: The collected flower petals are gently laid on the surface of the grease-saturated frames. The petals’ fragrant compounds naturally diffuse into the fat over time, infusing it with the flowers’ aroma.
- Changing Petals: As the fragrant compounds are absorbed by the grease, the spent petals lose their scent. These petals are then removed, and fresh, fragrant petals are laid down in their place. This process is repeated multiple times to achieve a highly concentrated fragrant grease.
- Separation: After several days or weeks of layering fresh petals and allowing the fat to absorb the fragrance, the grease is considered “charged” or saturated with the flower’s aroma.
- Extraction: The last step involves extracting the fragrance from the charged grease. This can be done using alcohol, which is poured onto the grease to dissolve the fragrant compounds. The alcohol solution, now rich in aromatic substances, is then separated from the grease through a process called “rectification.”
- Perfume Production: The resulting alcohol solution, known as an “absolute,” contains the concentrated fragrance of the flowers used in the enfleurage process. It can be further blended with other aromatic compounds, essential oils, and fixatives to create a complete perfume or fragrance.
While enfleurage is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, it is still used today by some artisanal perfumers who seek to create unique and authentic fragrances using traditional methods. However, due to its inefficiency and cost, the majority of the perfume industry has transitioned to more modern extraction methods, such as solvent extraction and steam distillation, which are more efficient and scalable.
In summary, enfleurage is an ancient and delicate process used in the perfume industry to extract the fragrant compounds from delicate flowers. By layering flower petals on grease-saturated frames, the fragrance is absorbed into the fat, creating a concentrated fragrant grease. This grease is then extracted using alcohol, resulting in a highly aromatic absolute, which can be used as a key component in perfumes and fragrances. While enfleurage has largely been replaced by more modern extraction methods, it remains an important part of perfumery history and continues to be used by select perfumers to create unique and artisanal fragrances.