Sandalwood-India-Attar-Making2 Attar Production - India

Despite the fact that today S. album and S. spicatum  are perhaps two of the most widely cultivated species of sandalwood, there are many more, often lesser-known sandalwood species.  Each sandalwood species produces a unique sandalwood essential oil with its own distinctive character and odor profile.

The assessment of “good quality” sandalwood oil is based on each different type of sandalwood oil’s alpha- and beta-santalol content. The chemistry of sandalwood oil’s odor profile is complex, although the weakly odored alpha-santalol should constitute 41% to 55% of the sandalwood oil, and the stronger-odored beta-santalol should be constitute approximately 16% to 24% (Cropwatch, source, 2009).

Below is a list of the different types of sandalwood essential oil:

S.album (India)

  • Color: Clear to golden yellow
  • Appearance: Slightly viscous, oily (medium-thick liquid)
  • Odor: Sweet, woody, rich, delicate and persistent
  • Sample GC/MS analysis:
Name %:
cis-alpha-Santalol 50.00
cis-beta-Santalol 20.90
ciepi-beta-Santalol 4.10
(Z)-trans-alpha-Bergamotol 3.90
alpha-Santalal 2.90
cis-Lanceol 1.70
trans-beta-Santalol 1.50
beta-Santalene 1.40
Spirosantalol 1.20
cis-Nuciferol 1.10
epi-beta-Santalene 0.97
alpha-Santalene 0.82
beta-Bisabolol 0.64
beta-Santalal 0.56
trans-alpha-Santalol 0.56
dihydro-alpha-Santalol 0.38
ar-Curcumene 0.26
alpha-Bisabolol 0.26
beta-Curcumene 0.13
trans-alpha-Bergamotene 0.12
(Z)-trans-alpha-Bergamotal 0.10
beta-Bisabolene 0.07
alpha-eka-Santalal 0.07
(E)-Nerolidol 0.06
gamma-Curcumene 0.04
Santene 0.01
beta-eka-Santalal 0.01

(Dragoco Rept, 1988)

S. album (Mysore, India)

Sandalwood essential oil from India is rare and little true Mysore sandalwood available in today’s market, due to fairly strict Indian government regulation which limits the cutting, distillation and export.

  • Color: Transparent, yellow
  • Appearance: Medium consistency
  • Odor: Warm, balsalmic, musky, spicy, rich, woody
  • Sample GC/MS analysis:
Name %:
cis-alpha-Santalol 45.39
cis-beta-Santalol 20.54
trans-alpha-Bergamotol 6.31
beta-Santalal 5.01
cis-Nuciferol 3.83
epi-beta-Santalol 3.18
trans-beta-Santalol 1.78
cis-Lanceol 1.74
Santalol (unknown isomer) 1.53
beta-Santalene 1.44
alpha-Santalal 0.87
epi-beta-Santalene 0.86
alpha-Santalene 0.69
beta-Santalic acid 0.32
ar-Curcumene 0.26
trans-alpha-Bergamotene 0.16
Santene 0.14

(Robert S. Pappas)

S. paniculatum (Hawaii)

  • Color: Pale yellow to yellow
  • Appearance: Viscous liquid
  • Odor: Fresh, woody, sweet and light

Sample GC/MS analysis:

Name %:
cis-alpha-Santalol 47.48
cis-beta-Santalol 14.10
Santalol (unknown isomer) 7.96
cis-Nuciferol 7.22
cis-Lanceol 3.80
epi-beta-Santalol 3.37
beta-Santalene 0.55
epi-beta-Santalene 0.37
Nerolidol (unknown isomer) 0.18
ar-Curcumene 0.09
gamma-Curcumene 0.09
Santene 0.09
beta-Bisabolene 0.07
trans-alpha-Bergamotene 0.06

(Robert S. Pappas)

S. spicatum (Australia)

Australian sandalwood essential oil is a true sandalwood however it is different from Indian sandalwood S. album essential oil, with much lower levels of santalol; (S. album has higher levels of both a and b santalol) and in their aroma profiles. This difference in aroma is most pronounced in the essential oil’s top note: S. spicatum sandalwood oil has a drier, less sweet and sharper top note than S. album.  S.spicatum’s aroma does becomes more similar to S. album’s aroma in the middle note and base notes especially upon proper aging of the oil.

  • Color: Pale yellow to bright golden
  • Appearance: Viscous liquid
  • Odor: Sweet, soft, and woody
  • Sample GC/MS analysis:
Name %:
cis-alpha-santalol >25.0%
epi-alpha-bisabolol 2.0% to 10.0%
trans-alpha-bergamotol 1.0% to  10.0%
epi-beta-santalol 0.5% to 5.0%
trans-trans-farnesol 2.5% to 10.0%
cis-beta-santalol 5.0% to 20.0%
cis-nuciferol 2.0% to 10.0%
cis-lanceol 1.0% to 10.0%

S. austrocaledonicum (New Caledonia)

Much less is known about the constituents and the odor profile of S. austrocaledonicum than other types of sandalwood essential oil. However, the main chemical constituents are thought to be similar to those of S. album. S. austrocaledonicum is also known to have compounds called lanceols, which have a weaker aroma, as well as lanceals, which have more powerful aroma (Rhind, 2013).

  • Color: Clear to pale yellow, off-white
  • Appearance: Viscous liquid, oily
  • Odor: Warm, sweet, woody, maple-like aroma
  • Sample GC/MS analysis:
Name %:
santalene 0.250
alpha-santalene 0.910
trans-alpha-bergamotene 0.120
epi-beta-santalene 0.75
beta-santalene 0.700
cis-cis-alpha-farnesene 0.150
beta-curcumene 0.220
Ar-curcumene 0.15
trans-nerolidol 0.190
cyclosantalal 0.690
alpha-santalal 0.460
epi-cyclosantalol + NI 1.280
epi-cis-beta-santalol + bisabolol 0.440
cis-beta-santalol 0.38
teresantalol 0.110
cis-alpha-santalol 49.380
trans-alpha-bergamotol 6.49
alpha-santyl-acetate 0.39
cis-beta-santalol 19.320
trans-beta-santalol 0.710
cis-lanceol 4.260
cis-nuciferol 1.02
spirosantalol 0.56

S. austrocaledonicum (Vanuatu)

Vanuatu sandalwood is the same species as New Caledonian S. austrocaledonicum and is similar in composition. It is valued by perfumers for its tenacity and depth.

  • Color: Pale yellow
  • Physical appearance: Viscous, oily
  • Odor: Woody, leathery, sweet, spicy, warm, rich and creamy

Traditional Indian Attars

Sandalwood-Rose-Attar-India Attar Production - India

Another important use for sandalwood essential oil is as the stabilizing base note in the traditional Indian attar. Attar, also known as ittar in Arabic, means “perfume,” “fragrance,” “scent,” or “essence” in Persian and has been traditionally used as a natural perfume made of oils, herbs, and petals in India for thousands of years. The most common attar blends are rose, jasmine, and lotus. Most Indian attars are distilled into a sandalwood oil base, which acts as the base note and strengthens the heart notes of the other flowers, herbs and wood oils added to the perfume. Attars that are distilled into sandalwood have a stronger, more resonant base than attars distilled into other wood-based essential oils. The mixture of sandalwood oil and other botanicals is carefully and slowly distilled, usually in a ceramic pot called a “deg” and is then aged for anywhere from 1-10 years, depending on the botanicals.

Kannauj, one of the oldest cities in India, was once regarded as the “Grasse of the East,” after the French town famous as the perfume capital of the world. Though most of the sandalwood used in the attar was grown in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Kannauj was widely known as the hub for distilling attar (Forbes India, source, 2014).

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