Neroli Oil and Neroli Hydrosol: How They Are Made?

Neroli oil is an essential oil produced from the blossom of the bitter orange tree (Citrus aurantium subsp. Amara or Bigaradia). This is an evergreen tree with dark-green, ovate leaves, white flowers with thick, fleshy petals, and small dark fruit. 

Orange oil comes from the orange peel; the leaves make petitgrain oil, and the flowers are steam-distilled to make neroli (or orange blossom) oil. Its scent is sweet, honeyed, and (somewhat) metallic with green and spicy facets. Orange blossom is also extracted from the same flower, and both extracts are extensively used in perfumery. Orange blossoms can be described as smelling sweeter, warmer, and floral than neroli.

The difference between how neroli and orange blossom smell and why they are referred to with different names is a result of the extraction process used to obtain the oil from the blooms. Neroli is extracted by steam distillation, and orange blossom is extracted via a process of enfleurage (rarely used nowadays due to prohibitive costs) or solvent extraction. During the boiling process, the steam and oil in the plant materials vapor are captured in the condensing apparatus. As a result, essential Neroli oils will float to the top of the distillate where it is removed, leaving behind the watery distillate and being called Neroli Hydrosol or Neroli Water. Neroli oil is costly to produce. It takes one ton of bitter orange blossoms to make one quart of oil.

In Mediterranean countries like Lebanon, Neroli hydrosol is used extensively in flavoring pastries, puddings, cookies, syrups, and jams. A popular drink called ‘white coffee’ is made by adding Neroli Hydrosol to water.

There is some controversy surrounding where Neroli gets its name, with at least three contenders for the title. One is a 16th-century Italian princess, Anne-Marie of Nerola. She wore Neroli as a perfume, and as a result, many other noblewomen followed the example set by the Princess of Nerola. Another explanation is that Neroli was named after a seventeenth-century Duchess, The Duchess of Tremoille. She was known as ‘la Nerola’ because she used this essential oil to scent her gloves. But according to the renowned herbalist Mrs. Grieve, both the common and the official name of Neroli come from the Sanskrit word “nagara” or “naranj” in Arabic (meaning orange). The Arabs recommended Neroli as a cure for impotence and often employed it in aphrodisiac blends to aid virility.