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Sustainable Scents

By: Jeb Gleason-Allured
Posted: September 6, 2007

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“We are treating materials that are very unstable after just a few hours,” says Toulemonde. “Very obviously, the first extraction we do of this material has to be where the flowers are grown.” When materials do arrive directly to the IFF facility, the company performs an extraction using an organic solvent such as hexane to yield the plant’s scent and waxes, which contain key protective antioxidants. All of the solvent is then removed and reutilized. Toulemonde is very aware that the uninitiated may be uneasy about something called “hexane” being used in a naturals process. “Hexane is a natural constituent,” he explains. “Nature knows how to deal with hexane. It’s not an artificial molecule created by man.”

The process concludes only after the resulting concrete is refined through several stages into a usable absolute, which is just a fraction of the original botanical mass. “We downsize to one thousandth [of the original botanical mass] with the first extraction; another half or 10% with the second step,” says Toulemonde. “So, for each kilo that we deliver, a minimum of 1 ton—but very often 10 tons—of vegetal [were processed].”

The Economics of Naturals
“IFF has as many staff in the plant as in the lab,” Toulemonde says. As he speaks, he stands before the company’s cold storage area, which prevents light damage. This space contains millions of dollars of raw material inventory. Toulemonde explains that the company cannot behave as if it’s in the chemical industry. “We cannot decide ‘let’s process a rose absolute today.’ If nature did not give you the rose, then you do not have the rose concrete, you do not process the rose absolute.” In fact, he says, the company must carry a minimum of 18 months of inventory to ensure supply stability.

During the tour, Toulemonde shows off a batch of jasmine concrete from India, which strongly resembles crème brûlée. It possesses a strong smell, though not as pleasant as the resulting absolute. Later, Toulemonde displays some jasmine sambac absolute and playfully asks the perfumers if they think the absolute is “OK,” to which they reply in the affirmative. “Today they say yes, but quite often they say no,” he says.

The tour moves along to a modest second workshop where absolutes are refined and fractions extracted to create desirable, unique fragrance profiles. Toulemonde points out a small industrial-scale setup—about one kilo capacity—on which LMR has recently processed iris that was distilled drop by drop in 19 different fractions. This produced several hundred grams of iris absolute that is literally worth more than gold.