Rose oil


Rose oil, meaning either rose otto (attar of rose, attar of roses) or rose absolute, is the essential oil extracted from the petals of various types of rose. Rose ottos are extracted through organic synthesis, rose oils are still perhaps the most widely used essential oil in perfumery.


Two major species of rose are cultivated for the production of rose oil:

  • Rosa damascena, the damask rose, which is widely grown in Bulgaria, Turkey, Russia, India, Iran and China
  • Rosa centifolia, the cabbage rose, which is more commonly grown in Morocco, France and Egypt

Most rose oil is produced in Bulgaria, Morocco, Iran and Turkey. Recently, China has begun producing Rose oil as well.

More than 300 compounds have been identified in rose oil. The most common are:

citronellol, benzyl alcohol, rhodinyl acetate, phenyl ethyl formate

The key compounds that contribute to the distinctive scent of rose oil, however, are beta-damascenone, beta-damascone, beta-ionone, and rose oxide. Even though these compounds exist in less than 1% quantity of rose oil, they make up for slightly more than 90% of the odor content due to their low odor detection thresholds.[1]


Due to the labor-intensive production process and the low content of oil in the rose blooms, rose oil commands a very high price. Harvesting of flowers is done by hand in the morning before sunrise and material is distilled the same day.

There are three main methods of extracting the oil from the plant material:

  • Steam distillation, which produces an oil called rose otto or attar of roses.
  • Solvent extraction, which results in an oil called rose absolute.
  • Supercritical carbon dioxide extraction, yielding an essential oil that may be marketed as either an absolute or as a CO2 extract.


In the process of distillation, large cohobation, in order to obtain the water-soluble fractions of the rose oil such as phenyl ethyl alcohol which are a vital component of the aroma and which make up the large bulk, 80%, of the oil. The two oils are combined and make the final rose otto.

Rose otto is usually dark olive-green in color and will form white crystals at normal crystallization of some of its components.

The essence has a very strong odor, but is pleasant when diluted and used for perfume. Attar of roses was once made in India, Persia, Syria, and the Ottoman Empire. The Rose Valley in Bulgaria, near the town of Kazanlak, is among the major producers of attar of roses in the world.[2]

Due to the heat required for distillation, some of the compounds extracted from the rose undergo denaturing or chemical breakdown. As such, rose otto does not smell very similar to "fresh" roses.

The rosewater. This inexpensive by-product is used widely as a food flavoring as well as in skin care.

Solvent extraction

In the solvent extraction method, the flowers are agitated in a vat with a pigments. The extract is subjected to vacuum processing which removes the solvent for re-use. The remaining waxy mass is known as a concrete. The concrete is then mixed with alcohol which dissolves the aromatic constituents, leaving behind the wax and other substances. The alcohol is low-pressure evaporated, leaving behind the finished absolute. The absolute may be further processed to remove any impurities that are still present from the solvent extraction.

Rose absolute is a deep reddish brown with no crystals. Due to the low temperatures in this process, the absolute may be more faithful to the scent of the fresh rose than the otto, which is subjected to high heat during the distillation process.

CO2 extraction

A third process, supercritical sublimation.) The liquid CO2 extracts the aromatics from the plant material.

Like solvent extraction, the CO2 extraction takes place at a low temperature, extracts a wide range of compounds rendering an essence more faithful to the original, and leaves the aromatics unaltered by heat. Because CO2 is gas at normal atmospheric pressure, it leaves no trace of itself in the final product. The equipment for CO2 extraction is expensive, which is reflected in the price of the essential oils obtained from the process.


It takes many pounds of rose petals to distill one ounce of essential oil. To mitigate the cost, some dishonest dealers will dilute rose oil with Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) or Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii) EO's, both of which are rich in geraniol, the main constituent of rose oil. Some of these 'rose oils' are up to 90% geranium or palmarosa to 10% rose. This is referred to as extending the Rose fragrance. Sometimes rose oil is adulterated with other chemicals such as phenylethanol, which, although a natural component of rose oil, is usually artificially produced. This may be done to compensate for chemotype, e.g. Bulgarian distilled Rose oil is naturally low in phenylethanol, and Ukrainian or Russian rose oil is naturally high in phenylethanol.


  1. ^ Leffingwell, John C. (1999). Rose (Rosa damascena). Aroma from Carotenoids. Leffingwell & Associates. Retrieved on 2006-06-08.
  2. ^ This article incorporates text from the public domain 1907 edition of The Nuttall Encyclopædia.
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