I loves me some quality chutney. I found a recipe for a peach chutney that sounded divine and it seemed a great way to use a lot of peaches I bought at the store. Now, if you’ve ever made a preserve, you know the cardinal rule never double a recipe. Thinking I knew better than experienced home cooks, I made a double batch of peach chutney that took 36 consecutive hours to cook down. Thus learning a valuable lesson. THE END
¶ I opted for essential oils when I started perfumery because I equated synthetic fragrances with complex chemistry, and I haven’t taken a chemistry class since I was a junior in high school. What little I remember from chemistry is spotty – it was environmental chemistry, the Lite version of chemistry classes – and I was only really good at balancing chemistry equations. I also started this hobby with the notion that essential oils are natural and therefore easier to use than synthetic fragrances.
If I have an absolute (a highly concentrated aromatic) I can dilute it using either oil or alcohol, and I can continue dilution until I reach a concentration that allows me to work with the fragrance at a granular level. Tuberose and Orris Root are two such examples of absolutes that are better served when diluted in perfumer’s alcohol. So far, so good.
I can treat an aromatic compound as an absolute and dilute it with a carrier – usually perfumer’s alcohol, but it can also be jojoba or fractionated coconut oil – until I achieve a concentration ratio of 15–40% fragrance. Commercial fragrances, interestingly, contain very little aromatic compounds—although you’d never know it the way some people use perfume and cologne as body wash.
Top, Middle, and Base Notes are not equal amounts in a fragrance. The Base contains the highest amount of aromatics with the Top and Middle splitting the remainder of the compound in a 60-40 ratio. Creating the overall fragrance is where I spend most of my time using math to solve for ratios and distributions: if the Middle Notes comprise 60% of the fragrance, and I want to use 5 EOs, what time does the train leave the platform at 90 km/h when it leaves Nevada on Saturday?
Making fragrances with essential oils is a little bit like making preserves and a lot like chemistry and math: never double a recipe unless you know how to properly balance the aromatic compounds in high concentrations. Because the fragrance you tried to make with Vetiver, Rosewood, and Galbanum will smell altogether different when you increase each amount ten-fold and find yourself with a concentrate that, well, reeks. (The trick here, of course, was to first dilute the Galbanum to 20–50% of its original potency and then multiply.)
A good rule-of-thumb when working with essential oils is to dilute when in doubt, as an essential oil in its pure form can be equally concentrated as an absolute. You can always build up a fragrance but it’s damn near impossible to do the opposite.
Remember when you were in school and thought to yourself When am I ever going to use any of this in the real world? Hobbies, ladies and gentlemen: where home economics, chemistry, and mathematics converge. And a lot of regret that I didn’t first dilute the Galbanum.