Essential Oils: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

During the last 30 years, we have witnessed many changes within the essential oils industry. Essential oil production and processing are an important part of the global flavor and fragrance industry. Along with aroma chemicals, they constitute the creative building blocks for virtually all flavors and fragrances. Aromtherapy’s use of essential oils is small, estimated at less than 0.5% of total oil production.

Because of their use, essential oil consumption often reflects consumer preferences in beverages, confectionery and related products, convenience foods, soaps and detergents, cosmetics, toiletries, and fine fragrances. Even with today’s worldwide, instantaneous communications, adjusting the production of specific essential oils to meet current and anticipated needs continues to be a serious problem for the industry. Essential oil crops must be planted, nurtured, harvested and processed, which can take many months. Lavender and lavandin; clary sage; herb crops, including thyme, rosemary, basil, dill and oreganum; and mint crops, including peppermint (Mentha piperita), spearmint (Mentha spicata and Mentha cardiaca) and cornmint (partially dementholized Mentha arvensis) are examples. Fortunately, this is not the case for most citrus oils, which are usually recovered when the fruit is processed into juice. The exceptions are bergamot oil and lime oil distilled. Weather conditions can and often do influence the production of essential oils, adding to the uncertainty and complexity of producing and trading these important raw materials.

During the early 1960s, a few large companies dominated the US essential oil market. Among these were Fritzsche Dodge & Olcott, The George Leuders Co., Magnus Maybee & Reynard, Norda Inc. and Ungerer & Co. With the exception of Ungerer & Co., which retains a successful flavor, fragrance and aroma chemical trade, all these companies have vanished through acquisitions and mergers. The smaller family companies of the period are today’s most active importers, dealers and processors. Listed alphabetically, they are: Berje Inc., Citrus & Allied Essences Ltd., the J. Manheimer Co. (which boasts important flavor and fragrance diversification), Polarome Inc. and Ungerer & Co. For accuracy purposes, it should be mentioned that there are a number of companies specializing in mint oils. They are: I.P. Callison & Sons Inc., the William Lehman Co., and A.M. Todd Co. (also active in citrus oils).

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