The bitter orange tree is a wonder. For perfumers, it provides a number of different essences, chief amongst which is neroli – used for centuries by perfumers. The orange tree is rather unromantically referred to as the ‘pig of perfumery’ – because so many parts of the tree are useful.
Every spring, the bitter orange tree bursts into bloom. The flowers are collected between April and June, and are steam distilled.
Steam distillation was originally refined by the Middle Eastern polymath and genius, Avicenna. The process he created, where the fragrant material is heated in water, cooled and condensing into an essential oil. The result produces not only an essential oil, but in many cases a fragrant water that can be used for creating sweets and other treats.
Neroli essential oil is a fresh, floral, zingy, green and uplifting scent – with an energising quality that is unmatched by many other materials. It is key to the centuries old traditional Eau de Cologne formulations, which have recently made a return in popularity.
According to legend, Neroli is named after Princess Anne-Marie of Nerola – a 16th century Italian princess who wore the essence as a fragrance and inspired many noble women to do so.
The flowers of the orange tree can also be processed through a high pressure CO2 process or solvent extraction – creating an ‘absolute’ – a more intensely concentrated and ‘complete’ picture of the original source. As such, Orange Blossom Absolute is even more costly, due to the low yield of such processes and the intensive processes which take place. The absolute smells more floral, and tends to remind many people of jasmine, with a hint of honey and mere touch of citrus freshness.
The tree also produces bitter orange essence, also known as ‘bigarade’, created by cold pressing the skin of the fruit to extract the fragrant oils. The bitter orange is typically blended with sweet orange notes to create a realistic impression of an orange – juicy fruit and its zingy skin all at once.
From the leaves and twigs of the trees, Petitgrain is the distillation of these parts of the tree. It has a gently woody, aromatic and herbal twang, leafy and green but also citrus and bright. It is also hugely important in the character of traditional Eau de Cologne recipes.
Neroli is a key part of many of our fragrances, but is best displayed in Lumiere Doree, a luminous drop of golden sunlight filtering through orange trees.