The unique bitter orange tree

Of the few hundred natural raw materials available for perfume production, the bitter orange tree is unique. It is the only plant where a raw material is obtained from more than one part of the plant: Bitter orange, petitgrain, and neroli oils, as well as orange blossom absolute. We want to get to know this special plant together.
Thorsten Biehl

Thorsten Biehl

Branch of an orange tree on a white background with blooms, buds, and leaves. citrus white bloom of neroli. Generative AI

The unique bitter orange tree

Of the few hundred natural raw materials available for perfume production, the bitter orange tree is unique. It is the only plant where a raw material is obtained from more than one part of the plant: Bitter orange, petitgrain, and neroli oils, as well as orange blossom absolute. We want to get to know this special plant together.
Thorsten Biehl

Thorsten Biehl

fact sheet of the Bitter orange tree

The bitter orange tree, also known as bitter orange, is a small to medium sized tree with a dense crown and thorny branches. It can grow up to 10 meters high and has a spreading, rounded crown. The leaves are dark green, shiny and oval with a slightly serrated edge. It is grown in many countries around the world, especially in warmer regions with a Mediterranean climate, such as Spain, Italy, France, Morocco, Tunisia, Florida and California. The bitter orange is one of the three best-known types of oranges, belonging to the genus Citrus along with the sweet orange and the tangerine. The fruit of the bitter orange tree is smaller than that of the sweet orange and has a thicker, slightly bitter peel that is rich in essential oils. The fruit is rarely eaten raw, but is often used to make jams, preserves and sauces.

Bitter orange oil, petitgrain oil, neroli oil, orange blossom absulue - all raw materials from the bitter orange tree.

Bitter orange oil - indispensable for the perfume industry

Bitter orange oil is obtained by cold pressing the peel. The scent is more intense and less sweet than that of other orange oils and often has a slightly woody or herbaceous note. Since the peel is only a by-product of orange blossom production and the processing is inexpensive, the oil is one of the cheapest and most popular raw materials in the perfume industry, with prices starting from 10 € / kg. Especially the favorable qualities are used as fragrance in almost all areas of our daily life.

Petitgrain oil - for the tart freshness

Petitgrain oil is obtained by steam distillation from the leaves, smaller and unripe fruits, and young twigs of the bitter orange tree. The scent is described as woody, tart, fresh and citrusy. Unlike neroli oil, the scent of petitgrain oil is more tart and less sweet, but still very refreshing and invigorating. With 30-80 € / kg it is also a comparatively cheap raw material.

Orangenblüten blühend gepflückt
Hand picked orange blossoms shortly after flowering

Neroli oil- popular but expensive

Neroli is an essential oil, which is obtained by steam distillation from the just blossoming, hand-picked flowers of the bitter orange tree. For the production of one kilo of oil 800 to 900 kg of flowers are needed. The scent of the oil is sweet, floral and delicate with fruity citrus notes, a slight woody note and a hint of bitterness. The price of Neroli oil starts at about 2,000 € / kg, but depending on the quality and origin can be much higher. Nevertheless, it is considered one of the most popular ingredients for perfumery and in aromatherapy.

The Jewel - Orange Blossom Absolue

Orange Blossom Absolue, the jewel of the bitter orange tree, is also extracted from the blossoms. However, this is done by a much more complex solvent extraction process. In this process, the flowers are treated with a volatile solvent, which is then evaporated to obtain the pure absolute. The absolute has a sweet, floral scent with delicate citrusy notes as well as indolic, jasmine nuances. The price of the Absolue starts at 5,000 € / kg, which makes it impossible to use in larger quantities and for cheaper mass perfumes.

The importance of the bitter orange tree for Colognes

Since the beginning of the 18th century, the perfume raw materials of the bitter orange tree have been an essential ingredient of the classic Eau de Cologne, also known as Echt Kölnisch Wasser, which eventually became the namesake of an entire fragrance. Since then, countless fragrances with the typical, characteristic scent of the colognes have come onto the market. Among my favorites of the 20th century are the original versions of Eau Sauvage by Dior (1966) and Armani’s Eau pour Homme (1984). In this day and age, unfortunately, the currently offered versions no longer reach the original quality.

What's next for The Perfume Blog?

For you, we’ve put together an excellent contemporary selection of colognes to try with “The Cologne Collection”: Why not a Cologne by Mark Buxton, Acqua Mia by Art Landi, GS03 by Biehl. Perfume works of art, St. Clement’s by Heeley and Eau du Levant by Créateur Mare. In separate blog posts, some of the most talented and well-known perfumers of our time will have their say on this topic and their creations. They describe their personal preferences, different ways of approaching and working with, and, where appropriate, dislikes of these raw materials.

We are curious and remain with fragrant greetings, your Thorsten Biehl.

The Perfume Collective

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