• What is Guaiacwood Oil? — Chromatography Investigates

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What is Guaiacwood Oil? — Chromatography Investigates

Apr 03 2018

Lavender, bergamot an even patchouli are well-known fragrances that are used to make perfumes and to keep us smelling nice. But there are many other ingredients that go under the radar. One such ingredient is guaiacwood oil. Let’s look at these hidden ingredients through the eyes of guaiacwood oil. But,just what is guaiacwood oil?

Essentially smelly

These fragrant ingredients — including guaiacwood oil, pronounced gayak — are essential oils, and they are just one of the many ingredients that we get from plants. We get essential oils from trees, flowers, herbs — in fact, from all sorts of plants. And although we harvest them for their aromas, they also have many other benefits, just think of the power that aroma has on the whole gamut of human experiences.

We find essential oils in hundreds of products that we buy everyday — food flavouring to toilet cleaner — but it is in perfume that the true power of essential oils comes together as expert perfumers manufacture aromas to take us on magical adventures (according to the adverts on TV). In fact, the word perfume comes from the Latin per fumum — which means ‘from smoke’, the original method used to extract oils from plants.

Extracting the oil

The way oils are extracted depends on the plant or flower that it is extracted from and the form that the aroma components take. There are three main methods that are used to extract essential oils:

  • Steam distillation — a simple technique that hasn’t really changed over hundreds of years, it is also the most common technique. The ingredients are placed in a vat with water and heated, this releases the volatile components in the steam produced which are collected and separated into oil and water.
  • Absolute extraction — for more delicate compounds that might break down when heated, a solvent is used to extract the aroma compounds by dissolving them. Obviously, the right kind of solvent must be used. The solvent is then removed leaving behind the oil.
  • Expression — possibly the oldest technique. Simply squeeze some orange peel and you can get some orange oil. Simple.

Steam distillation is the method used to extract guaiacwood oil. But where does the oil come from?

Oil of guaiacwood

Guaiacwood oil is described as having a woody, sweet and spicy aroma — some people liken it to sandalwood. It originates from a region known as Gran Chaco that covers parts of Argentina and Paraguay. The tree is locally known as palo santo and has small oval leaves and blue flowers. Locally, it is used as incense to ward off spirits.

A recent study of guaiacwood oil used chromatography to isolate and identify some of the components that make up the oil. The use of two dimensional chromatography to identify unknowns is discussed in the article, New Investigator Tools for Finding Unique and Common Components in Multiple Samples with Comprehensive Two-Dimensional Chromatography. Twenty compounds were isolated from guaiacwood oil, including fourteen never isolated in natural extracts. Brut anyone?


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