Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Natural VS Synthetic Aldehydes?

Are some aldehydes that come from natural sources natural enough to be called natural? Only if they're carbon-based, right? The new buzzword on the scene is "natural aroma chemical", or "natural aldehyde", probably created by the manufacturers of aroma chemicals or aldehydes used in modern perfumery to make the distinction between good and bad chemicals (and of course, their companies are producing the latest good ones). One site states: "Because these (isolates) are extracted from the essential oils, they should in no way be considered synthetic". True, some aroma chemicals are derived from crude sources--many musk ketones and galaxolides, for instance, are petrochemicals (see the chart that lists aroma chemicals here). However, some aroma chemicals themselves are complex mixtures that stem from both natural and synthetic sources, so it's not as cut and dry as it seems. Basically, it means vanillin, menthol and linalool can be natural, synthetic or partially both, but whatever it is, if it's derived from mostly natural sources, it can pass for being natural. It should be noted that synthetic vanillin can be prepared from cellulose industry waste products or coal tar and in food, it's known to be hazardous to health.

(Before we move on, I do want to clarify that I get my oils from respected sources for natural fragrance and essential oils. I also eat organic foods wherever possible and play acoustic instruments, but I still need to make my point because I'm concerned with the ethics behind marketing.)

The thing is, what's called natural in the flavor and fragrance industry is highly debatable because let's face it--all people are not going to agree that, say, canola oil, because it's a genetically modified rapeseed oil (which is toxic in its natural form) is in fact a natural oil if there's no such thing as a canola in nature. Likewise, hydrogenated soybean oil might be natural but that doesn't mean it's good for us to consume. Natural linalool is derived from turpentine. Is that good for us? Furthermore, I sincerely doubt it's only the American perfume companies that use crude oil isolates such as musk ketones in their products, even if some sites like to make it seem that way. Many USA perfume products are also made overseas--in Paris, for instance, and vice versa. But any company looking to cut down on competition might put down other companies to promote their own aroma chemicals--or the perfumes in which they're used.

Can we honestly say chemicals (isolates) are 100% natural if they're naturally-derived, even when chemically modified? One more thing for food for thought: We're not cooking with coal tar in the US but we still color our desserts with Red No.40 and Yellow No.5. Does the EU allow those in their food products or are we the last to use artificial (natural? Some argue "artificial" and "synthetic" are also different) colorings?

Read about the history of aldehyde use in perfumery: Synthetic No.5 by Chandler Burr, The New York Times August 27, 2006

More about natural aroma chemicals here: The Return of Natural Flavours, Philip Ashurst, PhD, May 2005