You may sometimes come across the term “rose absolute essential oil” or “jasmine absolute essential oil”.
What does the word “absolute” mean? And is such an oil different from one that isn’t labelled with the word “absolute”?
The short answer is: Yes, they’re different.
#1: They differ in extraction method
An absolute is most often obtained through a process called solvent extraction. As the name implies, a solvent is used to extract the essence of the plant. The solvent is usually an oil-soluble hydrocarbon such as ethanol, methanol or petroleum ether.
A “pure” essential oil is extracted by distillation or cold pressing.
#2: They differ (though slightly) in composition and aroma
Because a solvent is used in the production process, an absolute does contain a small amount of solvent residue. The amount is very tiny (less than 0.0001% if made properly). But it still means there’s already something added to the oil.
An essential oil, however, will have nothing “extra” added to it.
Even if we don’t consider the presence of solvent residue, the composition of an essential oil made from distillation or cold pressing and an absolute made from solvent extraction could still be different. This is because solvent extraction pulls out some components of the plant that distillation or cold pressing does not.
Because of this, you may find that an absolute is thicker in consistency than an essential oil. (Unless the absolute has been diluted, which it often will be for commercial purposes.)
Usually, the aroma of the absolute will also be stronger and slightly closer to the aroma of the real plant than an essential oil.
#3: They differ in price
As you now know, an essential oil is purer because it contains the essence and no solvent.
An absolute, however, contains a little bit of solvent residue.
Hence, you should not be surprised that the essential oil will typically be (a lot) more expensive than its absolute counterpart.
Which one should I use?
My opinion is that where possible, you should use the essential oil. This is because the essential oil is purer.
I know the amount of solvent residue is very tiny in an absolute. But if the version without any solvent residue exists, why use the one with the residue?
Of course, that is if your budget allows for it. If you don’t feel comfortable splurging on the essential oil, you can still try the absolute version because it offers many of the same therapeutic benefits too.
Sometimes you won’t have a choice…
In some cases, you may not be able to choose the essential oil version even if you want to. Certain flowers are too fragile to go through a distillation or cold pressing process. So for these flowers, only the version made by solvent extraction is available. Examples include jasmine, gardenia and narcissus.
There’re also some flowers, such as neroli or rose, which can either be distilled or solvent-extracted. It is therefore important that the vendor you buy from clearly indicates the extraction method of the oil you’re buying. You don’t want to be paying a pure essential oil price for an absolute.
A word of warning…
When a product is labelled “absolute”, it’s an absolute (duh).
But when a product is labelled “essential oil”, it could be extracted either by distillation/ cold pressing OR solvent extraction.
Yes, I know, why don’t they make it less confusing by giving the distilled or cold-pressed essential oil its own unique name?
I don’t know why. But the bottomline is: you should read the details to find out which extraction method is used before hitting the “Buy” button.
1. An absolute and an essential oil differ in extraction method, composition, aroma and price.
2. Both offer therapeutic benefits. But where available and if your wallet allows it, you should use the essential oil because it’s purer than the absolute.
3. Some flowers are too delicate to undergo distillation or cold pressing. So the only version available is the absolute (made by solvent extraction).
4. When manufactured properly, the amount of solvent residue in an absolute is extremely small.
5. In the consumer market, absolutes can also be labelled as essential oils. So don’t rely on the name. Read the details to figure out whether the oil is distilled, cold-pressed or solvent-extracted.
If you’ll like to learn more about the various extraction methods, take a look at this post.