Natural Aroma Chemicals: Nothing New Under the Sun?

Lest the title be considered a rather downbeat opening, it should be noted that its purpose is simply to ground natural aroma chemicals where they belong, i.e. in organic chemistry. (All life is made with chemicals, after all.) Amongst the first organic chemicals to be purified and characterized were some of the most important natural aroma chemicals, beginning with menthol in 1771 (see T-1). The fundamental difference between now and then, of course, is that in the early days of organic chemistry it was believed that life was essential to the creation of complex molecules, the so-called “vital force” or “vitalism.” We understand now that the reverse is true, i.e. it’s the complexity of organic chemistry that is the mechanism of life. The 19th and 20th centuries saw the development of chemistry to the level that most organic molecules can now be made in vitro; despite this, recent years have seen continually growing interest in natural materials.

Naturals in the 21st Century

The rising demand for natural aroma chemicals has been driven by several factors, all pushing in the same direction. The largest factor is simply the marketing value of the term “natural,” evoking—theoretically—a simple, rustic past that most of the developed world has moved away from. To the general public, this natural concept is synonymous with health benefits and the whole green/sustainability package. Above all, it means there are no “chemicals” involved! This expectation, as we stated earlier, is unrealistic.

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