The history of production of essential oils dates back to ca. 3500 bc when the oldest known water distillation equipment for essential oils was employed, and may be seen today in the Texila museum in Pakistan. Ancient India, China, and Egypt were the locations where essential oils were produced and widely used as medicaments, flavors, and fragrances. Perfumes came to Europe most probably from the East at the time of the crusades, and perfumery was accorded a professional status by the approval of a French guild of perfumers in Grasse by King Philippe August in 1190. For centuries, Grasse remained the center of world perfumery and was also the home of the first ever officially registered essential oils-producing company—Antoine Chiris—in 1768. (It is worth noting that not much later, in 1798, the first American essential oil company—Dodge and Olcott Inc.—was established in New York.)
About 150 years earlier, in 1620, an Englishman, named Yardley, obtained a concession from King Charles I to manufacture soap for the London area. Details of this event are sparse, other than the high fee paid by Yardley for this privilege. Importantly, however, Yardley's soap was perfumed with English lavender, which remains the Yardley trademark today, and it was probably the first case of use of an essential oil as a fragrance in large-scale soap production.
The use of essential oils as food ingredients has a history dating back to ancient times. There are many examples of the use of citrus and other squeezed (manually or mechanically expressed) oils for sweets and desserts in ancient Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire. Numerous references exist to flavored ice creams in the courts of the Roman Emperor Nero and of China. The reintroduction of recipes in Europe is attributed to Marco Polo on his return from traveling to China. In other stories, Catherine de Medici introduced ice creams in France, whereas Charles I of England served the first dessert in the form of frozen cream. Ice was used for freezing drinks and food in many civilizations and the Eastern practice of using spices and spice essential oils both as flavoring ingredients and as food conservation agents was adopted centuries ago in Europe.
Whatever may be regarded as the date of their industrial production, essential oils, together with a range of related products—pomades, tinctures, resins, absolutes, extracts, distillates, concretes, and so on—were the only ingredients of flavor and fragrance products until the late nineteenth century. At this stage, the growth in consumption of essential oils as odoriferous and flavoring materials stimulated the emergence of a great number of manufacturers in France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, and the United States (Table 16.1).
The rapid development of the fragrance and flavor industry in the nineteenth century was generally based on essential oils and related natural products. In 1876, however, Haarman and Reimer started the first production of synthetic aroma chemicals—vanillin, then coumarin, anisaldehyde, heliotropin, and terpineol. Although aroma chemicals made a revolution in fragrances with top discoveries in the twentieth century, for many decades both flavors and fragrances were manufactured with constituents of natural origin, the majority of which were essential oils.
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