The distillation of essential oils

Essential oils are aromatic extracts obtained from plants, flowers or citrus fruits. Rich in active ingredients, these oils concentrate the aromas and properties of the plant, with a wide range of possible applications in aromatherapy, cosmetics, perfumery, food and detergents. Two methods exist for extracting precious essential oils from plant raw materials: cold expression by mechanical pressure, used for citrus peels, and steam distillation in alembics, used for other plants. Helpac, which has been distilling essential oils since 1988, has opted for a slow, gentle distillation process to offer top-quality products. 

Essential oil distillation: how does it work?

When we talk about distillation, we need to distinguish between direct distillation, used in particular for alcohol, and azeotropic distillation, used for essential oils, which releases the essences contained in plants by means of steam. 

Distillation takes place in a still. In concrete terms, steam is circulated through the plants contained in the copper or stainless steel vat of the alembic. This steam releases the active plant ingredients and volatile aromatic compounds, which mix with the distilled water to form an azeotropic mixture. This gaseous mixture is then drawn up the column of the alembic and sent under controlled pressure into a coil, where it is cooled and condenses back into a liquid state. Finally, it is collected in an essencier, where the essential oil, immiscible with water, will float to the top of the aqueous part at the end of the decantation phase. It can then be recovered in the same way as the distillation water, which is also loaded with active plant ingredients, albeit in a less concentrated form, and is known as floral water or hydrolat. Far from being by-products, hydrolats obtained from the distillation of essential oils are also a precious resource with undeniable beneficial properties. 

Helpac, the choice of gentle distillation

Since its creation in 1988, the Helpac distiller has been committed to offering first-rate essential oils. To achieve this, the company uses the best raw materials, thanks to a network of organic growers and partner harvesters in France and abroad, who are subject to stringent quality requirements. 

The subsequent stage of transforming plants into essential oils through distillation is just as important as the initial selection of plants. Indeed, many factors influence the quality of the final product: the type of alembic (copper or stainless steel), the temperature of the water used to distill the oils, the pressure in the alembic and the duration of distillation all have an impact on the quality of the distilled products. As a result, they have a wide range of characteristics: the aroma of essential oils and hydrolats is more or less pronounced, their therapeutic properties vary in efficacy, and their tolerance is uncertain. Moreover, as the yield of essential oils from aromatic plants is generally low, some producers are tempted to optimize distillation by reducing the distillation time or using various adjuvants. 

In order to offer top-quality essential oils and hydrosols, Helpac has opted for slow distillation, which is essential to allow all the aromatic molecules of the distilled plant to express themselves. Some of these molecules are only extracted at the very end of distillation, which is why we speak of “head”, “heart” and “tail” fractions to distinguish the successive components collected at the alembic outlet. Only complete distillation yields the “totum” of essential oils, i.e. all the plant’s molecules and active ingredients. 

To preserve the plant’s properties to the maximum, Helpac has developed a unique distillation process with low temperature and pressure (88°C / 0.5 bar). In this way, the plant is not altered by excessive heat or oxidized by excessive pressure, and the result is an essential oil of the highest olfactory, vibratory and biochemical quality. 

The quality of essential oils, a priority

In all sectors where essential oils are used, and in aromatherapy in particular, product quality is paramount in order to benefit from the unique properties of each plant. Helpac, a producer and distiller since 1988, has made quality a core value, to make the most of the natural power of plants while respecting biodiversity and human beings. 

Thanks to our sourcing of organically grown plant raw materials and our distillation method, which produces products rich in active ingredients and beneficial properties, we are proud to offer organic essential oils of exceptional quality, certified by ECOCERT FR-BIO-01. They are chemotyped (HECT), botanically and biochemically defined (HEBBD), which means that their biochemical and aromatic characteristics have been precisely identified. Pure and natural, the essential oils produced at our 3 distillation sites have not been blended, nor have any vegetable oils, synthetic molecules or solvents been added… Helpac’s ambition? To make the benefits and natural power of plants accessible, thanks to perfect mastery of product development. 

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