The two most important sandalwood species are Santalum album and Santalum spicatum. While Santalum spicatum is primarily used by aromatherapists, Santalum album, also referred to as east Indian sandalwood, is particularly important in perfumery. Perfumers also use west Indian sandalwood (Amyris balsamifera). West Indian sandalwood, which is actually not sandalwood at all, does not smell as noble, warm and soft as Santalum album, but rather woodier and drier and costs considerably less. The actual sandalwood, Santalum album, is mainly grown in Australia and India. Since the wood has been heavily cleared and global demand cannot be adequately met, sandalwood oil has become an expensive perfume ingredient. One kilogram costs several thousand US dollars. Fortunately, large-scale cultivation of Santalum album was started in Australia to meet the market demand. This will hopefully decrease the illegal logging of sandalwood in Indian forests.
Aroma molecules perfumers use to replace sandalwood oil
The aroma molecules Javanol, Sandalore or Bacdanol are famous synthetic perfume ingredients often used in mass market perfumes. Perfumers work with these substances in isolation or they mix it with natural sandalwood oil or Amyris balsamifera to cut down production costs.
Sandalwood oil production
Sandalwood trees are harvested after 30 years to yield the highest quality extracts. A maximum yield is obtained after 60 years. The entire tree including the roots is harvested, chopped up and subjected to steam distillation, or more rarely CO2 extraction to obtain pure, high quality sandalwood oil.
India and sandalwood
Sandalwood oil plays an important role in India. It is used in aromatherapy and traditional Indian medicine (Ayurveda) as well as a fragrance for soaps and attars. The production of attar in India is thousands of years old. Sandalwood oil is mixed with other natural ingredients and distilled to obtain a pure fragrance oil known as the attar. The oil is directly applied onto the skin. Attars are very expensive perfumes.
The scent of sandalwood oil
The scent of fine sandalwood oil can be described as warm, soft, creamy and voluminous. Sandalwood oil is a base note. Like most oils obtained from wood, it acts as a fixative of the more volatile perfume components. Often sandalwood oil is mixed with other wood extracts and vanilla, which incorporates warmth to the perfume composition. Sandalwood perfumes are typically part of the oriental family.