Traditional Rose Oil Production

   

Bulgarian roses

 


Rose-oil phials,

Ethnographic Museum - Plovdiv

 

Containers for keeping rose water and rose oil,

Ethnographic Museum - Plovdiv

Rose distillery - last quarter of the 19th century,

Ethnographic Museum - Plovdiv

 

 

 

Here follows Encyclopaedia Britannica's entry on rose oil (the 1999 CD edition):

Attar of roses, also called OTTO OF ROSE, ESSENCE OF ROSE, or ROSE OIL, fragrant, colourless or pale-yellow liquid essential oil distilled from fresh petals of Rosa damascena and R. gallica and other species of the rose family Rosaceae. Rose oils are a valuable ingredient of fine perfumes and liqueurs. They are also used for flavouring lozenges and scenting ointments and toilet preparations.

In Bulgaria, roses are grown in humid valleys, and their subsequent distillation has become an important, modernized state enterprise. Turkish Anatolia also produces some attar commercially. In the south of France and in Morocco, rose oil is obtained partly by distilling but principally by extracting the oil from the flower petals of centifolia roses, Rosa centifolia, by means of a suitable solvent. One ounce of richly perfumed attar may be produced from about 250 pounds (113 kg) of roses. Rose water is a by-product of distillation.

 

Displayed below is a modern-day rose oil product - a phial containing 0.5 g of 100 per cent pure rose oil produced in the famous Bulgarian Rose Valley. It comes with a wax-sealed decorative wooden case and a batch number label.

 

 


For reasons unknown the Bulgarian-grown rose produces the world's best rose oil. Rose oil (attar of roses) is an indispensable ingredient in virtually all fine perfumes made by most famous producers like Christian Dior, Givenchy, Lancme, Bulgari, Chanel....  Modern cosmetics is unthinkable without rose oil. It is a very expensive product. Grams of rose oil are as valuable as grams of gold. Much like coffee, which is of best quality and finest aroma when grown in particular areas, it is the Bulgarian-grown rose which is the most aromatic one. Every beginner in the fragrance industry knows that the top quality rose oil is produced in Bulgaria.

Most chemical components of the rose oil can be isolated from other oils or synthesized and, as a result, rather good 'artificial' products may be found on the market. Nevertheless, none of these has ever matched  the unique fine scent of the genuine rose oil. (A frequent malpractice is to add to rose oil its synthesized components in the same proportion.)

Essential rose oil is mainly produced in Bulgaria and Turkey. At present, Turkey is the major producer - the quantity of Turkish rose oil sold annually is larger, but its quality is poorer because of the hot climate. Therefore, it is mainly used in mass-produced perfumery.

The Bulgarian rose oil has always been the most expensive one. (The top price so far was paid by a Japanese company in 2007, $10000.) The price depends on the yield, as well as on the quality of rose oil and the method of production. Organic rose oil is much more costly, for no artificial fertilizers, no pesticides or herbicides are applied in its production.

Certain countries like China, France and Roumania have been trying in the recent years to develop their own production but with no great success due to the specific climatic conditions Rosa damascena needs in order to yield high quality oil.

 

The oil of rose has traditionally been used in medicine. Today its application in treating various health problems is even larger and to a greater effect.

A most remarkable quality of rose oil is that its "shelf life" is permanent, for it does not change with time thus sharing the immortality of diamonds.

***

For centuries, the oil-bearing rose has been grown in the Bulgarian Valley of Roses as it is known today. This is an area with pretty favourable climatic conditions and fertile soil including a string of valleys situated between the Balkan range and the Sredna Gora mountains. The major rose fileds are situated in the areas around Karlovo, Kazanlak, Plovdiv, and Nova Zagora.

 

Most likely, already the ancient Greeks and Romans valued the fine aroma of roses and used their blossoms in the preparation of ointments.

In India, roses may have been distilled as early as in the 1st century BC. An Indian legend tells that in 1612 the Moghul emperor Jehangir gave a spectacular feast for his favorite courtesan. As part of the wonderful setting there was a canal crossing the emperor's gardens filled with rose water. The courtesan spotted the oil floating on the water surface and was delighted by its scent.
In Persia, roses were grown to produce rose water. Later, the process was improved by Arabs.

So, the oil-bearing rose began its journey long, long ago. Originating from India, Iran and Egypt, in the following centuries it spread to Persia and Morocco and the countries under Arab  influence. It came to Europe along with the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century. Having reached the Bulgarian lands in the 17th century, by the mid-19th century it already became a permanent resident here.

Both the climate (mild winter and humid spring) and the soil proved to be quite suitable for the new-comer. At the same time, the less hot sun prevents the formation of a thick protective wax layer on its petals. Instead, the dew and the more abundant rains cause them to become more strongly saturated with essential oil.

The native people adopted the new crop as they could see it growing well and giving high yields on local soil. They even eradicated the vines they used to cultivate in order to replace them with rose fields. Thus, Rosa damascena changed their occupation, their way of living and, in fact, all their lives.

The rose bush lives around 30 years. It can reach a height of 2 meters. Its cultivation involves hard work and numerous agricultural activities - pruning, ploughing up, earthing up for winter,  turning over the ground in spring, watering, feeding up, treating against pests, etc. (The Rose Museum in Kazanlak exhibits rose farming tools from the past, as well as ancient stills and glass containers for keeping the rose oil.)

The rose-picking season starts in the second half of May (the day varies in the different places depending on the local conditions), lasts for a couple of weeks and ends around mid-June. The harvesting goes along with the Rose Festival and a beauty contest for the Rose Queen title. Held during the festival days are demonstrations of the rose-picking technique and the rose distillation process, tasting of rose jam and rose brandy.

The rose blossoms are picked from very early in the morning (when they open) until 10-11 a.m. Later in the day the oil contained in the rose petals loses its delicate aroma. The amount of rose blossoms collected daily by one worker is about 20-25 kg, 30 kg may only be picked by a very skilled hand. The flowers are gathered by holding the petals with three fingers and gently lifting up the blossom before picking it off.

Put in sacks and stored in a shady place, the blossoms are transported to the rose distilleries as quickly as possible in order to obtain a maximum quantity of essential oil.

The distillation process applied is much like the one of making brandy. The double distillation technology was introduced by the Bulgarian producers. It differs from the original production method but has significantly improved  the quality of rose oil.

At first, the distilling pots were ceramic, later the stills were made of copper (tin-plated from the inside). The proportion used in the distillation was 15 kg rose blossoms per 60 l water. Modern installations were introduced after 1902. They are more efficient in terms of amount of flowers processed, but the ratio 1:4 has remained the same.

The distilling installation consists of a still, a steam-leading pipe, a cooling container and vessels for collecting the produce - rose oil and rose water.

The overall distillation process takes about two hours. On the average, 3.5 tons of rose blossoms are needed to produce 1 kg of rose oil. Depending on the quality of flowers and the method of distillation, however, yields can vary between 3.0 and 5.0 tons (which equals more than one million flowers) to produce just 1 kg of rose oil.

Following the distillation, the droplets of pure rose oil left floating on the surface of the condensed liquid are separated from the rose water using special equipment.

In 1907, the Rose Experimental Station was founded. Its task was to monitor and maintain the properties of rose oil, as well as protect it from fake products. Later, this unit grew into the Institute of Rose and Essential Oil Bearing Crops. The Institute is responsible for the preservation of varieties, the cultivation of seedlings, the observation of production process standards, etc.

In 1937, a depository was established in the former Agricultural Bank to keep samples of earlier harvests. All makers keep the oil produced in bank treasures and test its properties in certified laboratories. The main one is the Bulgarian Rose State Laboratory where strict control on the quality of export produce (rose oil, rose concrete, rose absolute and rose water) is carried out. The evaluation of the rose oil yield is made by several expert chemists, and the testing itself is carried out using a gas chromatograph. The other laboratories are based in Kazanlak, Karlovo, Shoumen, and Plovdiv.

The rose oil is transported in special copper containers (konkums) tinned inside and in a wood  cover decorated with the national flag. The capacity of these containers is exactly 1 kg of rose oil. Each container comes with a signed quality certificate and its opening is sealed with a special wax-stamp.

 

***

 

Rose Oil and Rose Oil By-Products

 

Rose Oil

Rose oil is extracted from rose blossoms of Rosa Damascena through water distillation. Its fragrance is extremely potent.

 

Rose Concrete

Rose concrete is obtained from the fresh flowers of the Bulgarian oil-bearing rose (Rosa damascena) through petroleum-ether extraction.

 

Rose Absolute

Rose absolute is extracted from rose concrete. It is a red liquid mainly used in perfumery.

 

Natural Rose Water

Rose water is a by-product obtained during the distillation process of attar of roses, this is why it contains 0.04 up to 0.05 per cent of pure rose oil.

 

Rose water concentrate is a by-product of rose oil distillation containing 0.08 per cent of the precious essence.

Customers might not be aware of the fact that ROSE WATER is the best natural cosmetic product for cleaning and refreshing the skin. Rose water is also used in Fragrant Rose Water Wet Wipes.

 

Natural Rose Essence

Rose essence is the "progenitor's genome" of any top perfume. It has no other fragrances. The aroma is unique - one of roses. Genuine roses. For it contains natural rose oil.

 

 

Source material:

1. Traditional Bulgarian Costumes and Folk Arts. National Ethnographic Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Compiled by Viara Kovacheva-Kostadinova, Maria Sarafova, Marina Cherkezova, Nadezhda Teneva. Sofia, 1994.

2. Ethnographic Museum Plovdiv. Compiled by Anka Radeva, Lora Hristozova, Raina Kableshkova, Sonya Semerdjieva, Angel Yankov, Stoyan Antonov, Valentin Manev. Vion Publishing House, 2004.

3. Encyclopaedia Britannica, CD edition, 1999.

4. National Geographic, Bulgaria, May, 2008.