How are perfumes made?

          Perfume is a blend of substances made from plant oils, flowers and synthetic materials which produce a pleasant smell. People use perfumes to make themselves smell sweet and more attractive. But in the days when standards of hygiene were poor, perfumes helped to disguise many unpleasant smells.

          The word perfume comes from Latin, per fumum which means ‘from or through smoke’. The earliest makers of perfumes burnt aromatic woods and gums, using their perfumes at religious ceremonies. The art of making perfumes was known to the ancient Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Israelites, Arabs, Greeks and Romans.

          A perfume is made of the flowers, leaves, stems, roots or even wood turned into liquid form. This fragrance consists of tiny drops of essential oils, and it is the perfumer’s art to extract these.

          Modern perfumes are a mixture of real and artificial flower oils, alcohol and fixatives, which ‘fix’ the fragrance and make it, last for a long period. Some ingredients are taken from animals such as musk from the musk deer, castor from the beaver, civet from the civet cat and ambergris from the sperm whale.

          Thus raw materials used in making perfumes include natural products of plant and animal origin and synthetic materials. These substances are mixed in a particular proportion to obtain the desired perfumes. A good perfume may contain as many as two hundred ingredients. Essential oils obtained from plant materials are often extracted by steam distillation. Certain delicate oils may be obtained by the use of solvents. The blending of various ingredients requires great skill and a perfumer takes many years to learn his art. Perfumes are generally classified according to one or more identifiable dominant odours. The floral group blends such fragrances as jasmine, rose, lily and gardenia. The woody group consists of khuskhus, sandalwood and cedarwood. France produces the maximum quantity and the best quality of perfumes in the world.