Saturday, September 10, 2016

How we evaluate Essential Oils.

Recently on a Mondays with Marge, Karen asked, “Hi Marge, Today in a post someone mentioned the word "ORGANOLEPTIC" I found it quite possibly interesting but don't know much about it. How important is it? Just a general explanation? Thank you in advance, I am truly trying to understand a few things."

Our answer, “Karen, I am sure glad that you posted this 24 hours in advance. Gave us time to give a lot of thought to the answer (which will be coming soon to a blog post near you!) Of course, I can only speak for us. Others may disagree.

First of all... definition, from

Definition of "Organoleptic"

1 : being, affecting, or relating to qualities (as taste, color, odor, and feel) of a substance (as a food or drug) that stimulate the sense organs

2 : involving use of the sense organs

In our experience and our procedures, organoleptic testing is the FIRST test, the first hurdle, a new oil must pass.

We look at color. Is it what it should be? Is a "blue" oil a deep indigo.. or is it sort of greenish. A greenish tint MAY mean that it's old and oxidized.

The texture? If it is a vetiver, is it very thick, and sticky? On the other hand, if it's, let's say a Eucalyptus species... if that is thick, then there is something definitely wrong. It is probably old and oxidized.

Some people include taste. I don't. Personal preference. We should. I choose not to.

Most important of all is the aroma. Those who have sat in class or at conferences with me know I NEVER sniff an oil from the bottle; I believe you do not get the full aroma through an orifice reducer. (Please note, there are those who don't agree with me, that's okay, your mileage may vary.) So, first, I sniff the bottle cap... and that gets either an mmmmmmmmmmm, or a "what?????????" but that truly isn't a major part of the decision.

How we decide... we use scent strips. and dip the strip into the sample, and into the oil of the same species that we are currently offering, if at all possible. (sometimes Jim has to truly scrape the bottom of an empty pour bottle to get a comparison.) and then, we smell the scent strips. Three of us, Jim, Christi, and me. And sometimes Michelle because I love her descriptions.
Scent Strips of new Rose samples.
And that is where the fun begins. Because, when we smell those strips... there is a range of reactions. What we HOPE for. "OH, WONDERFUL"... an oil that is vibrant... that sparkles... that is EXACTLY what we want that oil to smell like.

And then there's the majority. "That's nice. it's what it should be. it's definitely (fill in the name of the oil.) And there's, "oh. what's WRONG with that?... it's too... too something. perhaps too sweet, or there's a bitter note that we weren't expecting, or... something jarring.

So, the FIRST hurdle a new specimen must pass is the organoleptic testing. Because if they fall into the third category, they don't belong here. I do NOT care what the gc/ms says, there is something off and I don't want to offer them.

and of course there are ranges, grades in between. Think of it as a spectrum... from one extreme to the other.

Now, our GOAL, and I think the goal of most of the suppliers I respect, is to have as many of those sparkling stars in their repertoire as possible. I would love to tell you that "all" the oils we offer are stars. That's the goal. But, in truth... NO single supplier offers the best of every oil. We try. A lot of us try. It's hard work and takes years of sourcing. The alternative is just picking a supplier or two and ordering all your oils from them. Some companies do that. I never saw the point. That takes the fun away. The joy of discovering.

I hope you see, now, the importance of "organoleptic testing" it isn't the be all and end all, but it's essential. ( pun intended!)

The situation gets complicated though. Because an oil can pass gc/ms analysis and still not be what we want. The organoleptic reaction is subjective. It helps if you love the oil, or the type of oil it is. It's hard to objectively evaluate an oil that you don't care for. (In years past I ordered the "least objectionable" Rosemary, because I truly disliked Rosemary. Others told me ours was stellar. I thanked them. It was "the least objectionable" which was the best I personally could do.)

Sometimes an oil is 'too good to be true." We have experienced that twice, The first time close to two decades ago, the second well over 10 years ago. In both cases my "too good to be true" alarm went off, and, after consulting with independent chemists, my suspicions were justified. The first was a "Rose Geranium"... that was a bit too floral. Come to find out it contained Phenylethelalcohol, which occurs in traces in Rose Otto, in high percentages in Rose Absolute, and not at ALL in Pelargonum species. Someone "boosted" the geranium to make it smell more "rosy"... and the scent balance was off. The next time was a so-called "Italian Neroli" which was sold as a distilled oil. Again, there was something... too good to be true about it. Come to find out it had some Orange Blossom Absolute added, to enrich the aroma. (This was a decade before suppliers normally had the oils we brought tested. We tested when we suspected a problem. And when I suspected a problem, I was correct.)

We have all three of us evaluate new oils and/or new samples, because we have, between us, 45 years of experience evaluating new oils. And we tend to agree. If I am not sure, I'll look to Christi or Jim to either confirm, or contradict me. We love different types of oils, so Christi is a better judge of the more medicinal oils, and she's not a good judge of the florals, for example. Jim will decant a sample or a new arrival downstairs, dip a scent strip and bring it up to us. And I KNOW, when Jim walks into the office with a big smile on his face, we have a winner.

There are times that we have made mistakes. Sometimes because we restocked without a sample. Sometimes because it was only after an oil had been in house for awhile that we realized it was not a good choice. Sometimes we return them. Some times we put them online with a comment that they are not the quality we like to offer, but the price is a bargain, and the analysis shows they are within spec. (I've been known to use the phrase "lacks the sparkle") Sometimes we find a soapmaker will be delighted to have them at a bargain price. And sometimes they go to Hazmat waste. It all depends on the specific oil, the specific situation.

Sometimes we come across a specimen that we absolutely love. That is the perfect example of what that product should be. And we can't offer it because people will not pay what it will cost us. We have a STUNNING sample of a Myrrh Hydrosol that will cost ten times the per ounce cost of any of the other hydrosols we bring in. We love it. We can't buy it for resale. We have had to decline some exotic roses that I loved. And we have declined every specimen of another rose that I would love to offer because every sample so far tests as adulterated. Even the ones that I thought smelled marvelous and passed all the organoleptic tests.

Now, sometimes a distiller whose selection normally "sparkles" will have a year that his crop is adequate, but only adequate. Bad weather does that. We do not abandon a trusted supplier. but some years the crops are better than others. We are DELIGHTED that we overstocked the 2014 rose otto... The 2015 rose harvest was a disaster, small yield and lackluster oil. We were able to pass. The producer congratulated me on stocking up the year before. But even an "adequate" oil is going to pass our organoleptic tests, and analytical testing as well. It just won't be the delight that we hoped it would be.

Sometimes we get several samples of the "same"oil and none of them are what we really want. Natural products are like that. We select the best out of the available options, and hope for better next year. Or, if none are "acceptable" we wait for better.

Then there's the times that we have offered an oil for a few years, and it's in our "okay" category. Solid but not exciting. And then we get a sample from a different producer. OH! You mean it can smell like THIS? And we fall in love! Those are the times that we are apt to overbuy because we fell in love. Thinking of Ironbark Eucalyptus... I had had samples from South America. Dull, flat, boring. No, we don't need to offer that. Then an Australian supplier sent me a sample. OH? It is supposed to be like THIS? Oh yes! And we've stocked it ever since. It's a star!

And then there's the recent sample of a rare and hard to find oil. the color was right. The first "sniff" smelled right, it had the sweetness we expected. Then we waited for the dry down. And, 10 minutes later, we were all looking at each other in puzzlement. What IS this? There was, to our noses, something "off," something “different” with that specimen, a bitterness, or astringency, on drydown. It reminded all three of us of a different oil, not what we were hoping for.

We chose not to order it. We see a lot of suppliers offering it. but we'd rather not. I have a sample coming in a few weeks from a source that I have purchased this oil from in the past. We'll wait. In the past, it was beautiful We hope this year’s will be, as well. Now, this oil came with proper 'documenation," a gc/ms that seems to be with scope. (This oil has a HUGE variation in accepted parameters.) But it failed "Organoleptic evaluation" ie, something didn't smell quite right to all three of us.

Given my druthers, when I am given a choice between a drop dead beautiful oil, and an 'acceptable' oil, I will buy the drop dead gorgeous oil every time. But there are some oils that...well, we have never experienced a "drop dead gorgeous" oil of...fill in the blank. We don't know if it exists. But the search goes on. We keep getting samples. And when we find it...we'll tell you, our Facebook friends, first! In the meantime, we will offer the "adequate" oil, within specs and not "wrong"...just not a star.

We had a French Petitgrain three or four years ago. IT was drop dead gorgeous. I had never experienced the like. We loved it. We only bought one kilo, because it was our first time. It was never produced again. So, the search goes on. Perhaps more from this producer will be available. Another example is Patchouli. Christi reminds me that our Sweet Patchouli from India, several years ago, was the best Patchouli ever. She's experienced probably more than 50 Patchouli's in her lifetime and we've never found one any better. But she loves all good Patchouli and she has approved all that we have ever offered. Does she like some better than others? Of course! :) And we reject a LOT of samples because Christi says "I don't think so."

Something else Christi reminded me... a quote from Depak Chopra:

"Finally, smell can have potent effect on our mind/body system. An aroma can trigger deep-seated memories in vivid ways that often surprise us. The olfactory nerve carries its information to the limbic part of the brain, which regulates behavior and emotions. Smell in the form of aromatherapy can be used to treat insomnia, depression and certain kinds of imbalances.

By treating the senses as the gateway to our own inner pharmacy, we tap into the most profound source of healing imaginable ­ our own consciousness. Think of the senses as portals through which we ingest the raw materials of our world and create our picture of reality. Our health depends on the positive input of our five senses as much as it does on nurturing food. What nourishes your soul nourishes your body. Take care to seek out moments of joy and beauty, which are the gifts that our senses continually provide."

And our goal is to select select essential oils that will give you “moments of joy and beauty.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a heavenly job!!!!! Smelling oils is one of my favorite things to do!!! Thank all three of you for your dedication to your calling!!!
Many Graces,
Mary Jo Hartnagel