TOBACCO & CHEMISTRY
Alexandra Paumard, CPL France
Considered by the Indians as a precious plant, the large and bright green leaves of tobacco were used during spiritual rituals for the purification of souls and for “divine” communication.
An under rated raw material used in perfumery, tobacco absolute is extracted from nicotiaine tabacum, which is produced mainly in France and in the United States.
Similarly to other raw materials, Tobacco absolute is very faceted. It has an aromatic odor with honey, waxy, dry and warm characteristics that evoke the smell of rolling tobacco. Tobacco offers particularly richness and sophistication to a composition.
The first perfumes to claim tobacco appeared in the 1920s with the Caron launch “Tabac Blond”. Although this leathery perfume has the word Tobacco in the name, it remains an olfactory metaphor of Tobacco and does not contain a single trace of tobacco absolute. Since then, many Fragrance Houses have launched their own interpretations of this precious plant following the example of Yves Saint Laurent with Belle d’Opium, Gucci with Gucci Pour Homme, Serge Lutens with Fumerie Turque, Jo Malone with Tobacco & Mandarin, Tom Ford with Tobacco Oud, Dyptique with Volute and Parfum d’Empire with Tabac Tabou to name but a few. All the fineness and the subtlety of the accord are worked on by the perfumer to create these fragrances.
Due to its price and the regulatory restrictions on its use (tobacco contains nicotine, which is limited), a tobacco accord can be built around Tonka Bean and coumarin to give the roundness of the note to which a slightly smoked facet is grafted with vetiver, cade or birch and finally a spicy cinnamon nuance or a sweet and animal touch of honey for example. Tobacco also goes well with woody, leathery or aromatic notes in fragrances.
As like many absolutes, tobacco is obtained by volatile solvent extraction of tobacco concrete. Extraction using volatile solvents consists of dissolving the fragrance part of the plant in a solvent which is then evaporated. Solvents most commonly used to extract concrete are nowadays organic solvents such as hexane and ethanol.
To reduce the usage of solvents, many research laboratories specializing in supercritical CO2 extraction are trying to improve their extraction capacities. Currently this technique, which makes it possible to obtain a better and a different olfactory profile (more faithful to the smell of the fresh raw material) is reserved for a limited number of raw materials (unfortunately, tobacco is not yet part of it). The supercritical CO2 extraction is based on the different physical states (liquid and gaseous) of carbon dioxide, which change according to temperature and pressure parameters.
Nowadays the fragrance industry is constantly looking for new extraction processes that combine both respect of the green chemistry principles and the discovery of new olfactory profiles.
These advances may allow producing new qualities of tobacco (supercritical CO2 maybe) and thus to build new interpretations around this beautiful raw material.