The fragrance and flavour supplier has a botanical garden in New Jersey containing hundreds of species of flowers, herbs and fruit trees from which synthetic fragrances can be created.
"A lot of the species we have are exotic plants where harvesting would be inefficient or impossible,” director of Nature Inspired Fragrance Technology Subha Patel told CosmeticsDesign.com.
Analyze the living plant
Using Headspace Technology, IFF can capture the fragrance of the living plant, analyze its components and recreate it in the laboratory. The result is a nature-identical fragrance.
Being able to analyze the living plant in this way means we can really get close to the fragrance in nature, explained Patel, as even cutting a flower may change the odor composition.
According to Patel, the synthetic fragrances are about 90 percent identical to the Headspace odors found in most of the living plant.
“Analytical tools are still not as sensitive as the most sensitive of noses and there could be some unknowns in a fragrance sample that cannot be found and incorporated into the synthetic mix,” she explained.
For Patel, such nature-identical fragrances are a way of capturing the natural odors but in an environmentally sustainable way.
If demand for natural ingredients grows it will be difficult to harvest the amount of material needed in a sustainable manner, she said.
Roses that flower in winter
One method of improving the sustainability of fragrance ingredient plantations is hydroponic technology - growing the plants in nutrient rich water rather than soil.
Patel explained that plants tend to grow better and flower for longer within this medium.
“Even in winter the rose can be flowering, because nutrients are constantly available,” she said.
IFF first used the hydroponic technique when it sent a rose into space with the Discovery in November 1998, and for Patel the technique will be playing an increasingly important role in the fragrance production of the future.
However, one of the major challenges faced by the industry today is making the laboratory production of these fragrances greener.
"IFF is continually researching how to develop processes for fragrance production that don't use too much energy, such as utilizing waste generated from one production system as the starting point for another," Patel explained.