Enzyme Extraction of Essential Oils

Enzyme Extraction of Essential Oils

Essential oils are chemicals that form the odoriferous essences of a number of plants. They are derived from parts of a plant, which can be the flowers, fruits, leaves , roots, or bark. Essential oils have been used since history. In ancient Assyria, Babylonia, Israel and other civilizations, essential oils were possessions. They were used as perfumes, added to cosmetics or mixed with other ingredients to create conditions for religious offerings, anointing kings or embalming the dead.

Today, essential oils are enjoyed and used more extensively than ever. Modern cosmetic and perfume industries depend on essential oils. Food manufacturers need essential oils to impart flavor and delicate aroma to beverages such as coffee, tea, juice , sodas, wines , liquors, canned sauces and soups, bottled condiments, confectioneries and other food products. Due to these applications, there is a huge demand for essential oils worldwide.

However, there is not enough supply to meet domestic and industry needs. In our country, most of the essential oils available in the market are imported and they command staggering prices. A 15 ml bottle of essential oil costs an average of 100-165 pesos.

The National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (BIOTECH) in UP Los Banos, Laguna addressed these problems by developing an extraction method for essential oil that is more efficient than teh conventional procedures like steam distillation. Through this method, BIOTECH hopes to develop local production of essential oils and help the country save and earn dollars. The method uses an enzyme called pectinase to extract the essential oil from a plant material. This is more efficient since it can derive 1-3% yield, double than extracted using other methods, depending on the plant material. This technology was created through the leadership of Dr. Teresita M. Espino.

Most of the essential oils available in the market are extracted using steam distillation. In steam distillation, fresh or dried botanical material is placed in the plant chamber. Pressurized steam is generated in a separate chamber and circulated through the plant material. The heat of the steam forces the intercellular pockets that hold the essential oils to open and release them. As the essential oils are released they evaporate and travel into a condensation chamber. As the steam cools, it condenses into water and the essential oils form a film on top of the water. The oil is then decanted or skimmed off the top.

Although steam distillation takes a shorter period of time, most of the active components in the essential oils are destroyed because of the heat. Enzyme extraction uses no heat. Plant materials are just chopped or cut into smaller pieces and the enzyme is added. The resulting distillate, an aqueous solution of the extracted oil, enzyme and plant fibers, undergoes solvent extraction to obtain the essential oil. AN organic solvent such as petroleum ether, ethanol or hexane is added to the solution. The solvent combines with the oil and forms a separate layer on top of the aqueous solution. The essential oil is then isolated from the organic solvent through evaporation. With the use of enzyme extraction, the active components of the essential oils remain intact, thus producing quality and stable extracts. It is also cheaper if used in large-scale production. In addition, the enzyme used is produced locally using indigenous raw materials and is readily available in BIOTECH.

Source: BAR TODAY, October –December 2000, Marianne Medina, BIOTECH, UPLB

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