Today we have a huge variety of pleasant scents that we can apply almost anywhere. From perfumes for clothes, deodorants for your body, and even scented tissues, it is very easy to always be surrounded by pleasing aromas. How do we get these aromas and scents in all these products?
In olden times, being scented was more of a luxury exclusive to the rich and powerful in most cultures. Lower-class citizens mostly relied on plain water to bath themselves, while the elite members of society used to bathe in scented water and applied oils that smelled nice on their bodies. Most people just had to burn incense to mask odors and make do with that.
This was because scents were harder to manipulate during that time period. And that is certainly not the case today. To capture the scent of a flower you have to pick it — about 100 kilograms of them for 25 grams of rose attar. Unfortunately, flowers don’t smell the same dead as alive. Within 15 seconds of being picked, the mixtures of 60 so different molecules that contribute to its smell begin to change.
Moreover, volatile essential oils formed by these molecules continue to evaporate and are not replaced. That is why some experts dealing with fragrances put glass jars over individual blossoms to absorb all the chemicals they give off. The chemicals are then analyzed and their synthetic version is made in labs.
Not all scents are created equal however. Many scent creation or extraction methods exist, some even persisting from past civilizations, though obviously better perfected and improved upon. Many natural scents have to be extracted by getting the natural oils that give off that scent. One such method is where plants with pleasant aromas are put into large rotating drums and covered with petroleum ether or benzene. Eventually the plant dissolves into its solvent and becomes a waxy substance containing the needed oils. This substance is then put into ethyl alcohol and dissolved into it. After that it is burned, leaving behind perfumed oil.
These fragrant oils can also be obtained from their respective plants using steam distillation or even just boiling in water. They can be placed in a still where they remain until the oils have been extracted. The oils are then cooled and liquified. A primitive yet effective way is to simply squeeze a plant or other substance until its oils have been extracted as best as they can be.
Many perfumed products today do not simply use a single scent though, and many often contain a mixture of naturally obtained and artificially synthesized fragrances. Higher quality scents sold in expensive products often require aging, much like wine, and can take months to prepare.