Vetiver oil is obtained from Vetiveria zizanoides L., a grass that can be found in both tropical and subtropical parts of the world. The roots of this grass yield an essential oil on steam distillation. The complicated odor profile of vetiver oil is dominated by a woody balsamic tonality of a very special kind. Qualities of vetiver oil that are mainly used in perfumery originate from Java, India, the Reunion Island, Seychelles, and in recent times Haiti, Angola, Brazil and Japan have become sources for this product.

Vetiver oil consists of a complex mixture of more than 150 sesquiterpenoid constituents. The composition and odor quality of the oil is dependent upon its origin. Among the 60 components identified to date, the sesquiterpene alpha-vetivone 1, ß-vetivone 2, and khusinol 3 always occur in the oil in amounts up to 35%. As a result, they are considered to be fingerprints of the oil even though they do not possess the typical odor characteristics associated with vetiver.

Because vetiver oil contains a complicated mixture of sesquiterpenes of differing complex structures, it is unlikely that an economical reconstitution of the oil, will be feasible in the near future.

Structural formulae

Vetiver Notes:
Vetiver oil is used as part of the woody notes for luxury perfumes. The oils of vetiver, patchouli and sandalwood in combination with a jasmin and gardenia complex, is the base of the famous CrÍpe de Chine note. In addition to its importance in classical perfumery, vetiver oil is also used as a base for many modern menís colognes.

Guenther Ohloff: Scent and Fragrances. The Fascination of Odors and their Chemical Perspectives, Springer-Verlag, Berlin and Heidelberg 1994, p. 172 f.



East Indian Sandalwood (Santalum album L.) is one of the oldest ingredients for perfumery. It has been in use for more than 4000 years. The essential oil is produced by traditional steam distillation of wood obtained from trees about 40 years old in yields of around 6%. A major proportion of the annual 200 tons of sandalwood oil is produced in the state of Karnataka (Mysore) in India.

The sesquiterpene alcohols (+)-(Z)-alpha-santalol 4 and (-)-(Z)-ß-santalol 5 are the molecular base (90%) of the essential oil. Both alcohols are responsible for the heavy woody odor character of the oil while the bicyclic alcohol 5 also adds to the urinaceous, animalic tonality of the oil.

Structural formulae

Sandalwood Notes:
The exquisite East-Indian sandalwood oil is an established ingredient in fine perfumery because of its specific odor and fixative properties. It is base for heavy oriental creations. There is no synthetic equivalent for the natural sandalwood oil because all efforts to synthesize the santalols 4 and 5 have not led to a commercially viable procedure. A series of replacement products are commercially available, although they are mainly used in functional perfumery.

Guenther Ohloff: Scent and Fragrances. The Fascination of Odors and their Chemical Perspectives, Springer-Verlag, Berlin und Heidelberg 1994, pp. 175-178


 Back to my homepage ...

© 1996 by Gerhard M. Stappen
Last update: 2000-06-13