Essential oil
  • Essential oil derived from rose geranium in South Africa is dramatically different from that made in China, Madagascar, Reunion, and North Africa.
  • It smells and looks different, which can make it uniquely useful for some products.
  • Now the chemical differences that sets it apart has been captured in a SABS standard, so it can be formally distinguished.
  • That could boost prices and exports, the standard maker hopes.
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Essential oil of geranium, made from the South African hybrid Pelargonium var Rose, now has an officially defined standard based on its unique chemical composition.

That, says the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), formally sets apart the South African product in such a way that it can be branded by its country of origin, with the prospect of better exports – at better prices – as the global market recognises its value.

Geranium oil is heavily used in the perfume industry, and in perfumed household products of all kinds, and rates as one of the most important essential oils. Much of that oil comes from plants cultivated in China and North Africa, where more modern hybrids derived from plants thought exported from South Africa to France in the 17th century are common.

But by both sight and smell, you can tell when it comes from South Africa, says the new SANS 4731:2021 standard.

"South African oils are dark green in colour in contrast to the yellow-green associated with other sources," reads the document. It also notes that the high levels of citronellol and citronellyl in South African oil, affects the aromatic profile. 

The chromatographic profile in the standard holds that South African geranium oil has a minimum of 12.4% citronellyl formate, and may go as high as 18.7%. The closest you'll find elsewhere is in China – where the same compound maxes out at 12%. In North Africa, meanwhile, the count can be as low as 4%.

That flies in the face of the common perception that no matter where geranium oil comes from, it is much of a muchness in composition and benefits.

The geranium oil standard is the first published in support of the local essentials oil industry, said the SABS in a statement.

"South African National Standards, such as SANS 4731, aims to ensure that the unique features of a South African essential oil can be distinguished from other oils produced abroad," said the body.

"The national standard will assist to distinguish locally produced oil and link it to a country of origin status."

The hope is that domestic producers will now be able to negotiate better prices, said SABS standards executive Sadhvir Bissoon.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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