Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Natural Fragrances

For over two years now, we have been conducting research for our Premium Body Care Standards, carefully determining exactly which ingredients will be allowed and which will be exempted from the new standard. With over 300 body care ingredients currently classified as unacceptable, you can imagine that it has been a long process: at our desks spending countless hours delving into the nuances of personal care ingredients; at meetings with experts, generous in sharing their information and brimming over with passion; and through journeys far and wide to see firsthand how these products and their ingredients are made. One of the most challenging areas for us to research has been fragrances, primarily because there is no official definition in place for natural when it comes to fragrances. Furthermore, the testing and verification of fragrances is quite complex, which has made it difficult for us to determine if a fragrance in a product is 100% natural or not. To help us better understand these issues, we decided that we needed to see the process of distilling 100% natural fragrances (essential oils) firsthand. Memorable among this experience was the beautiful opportunity this summer to witness the rose harvest and the subsequent distilling of rose essential oil. As the days start to bring a chill in the air, my mind wanders to the misty field in Bulgaria where Rosa damascena plants grow seemingly to the horizon. It is early morning because the peak hours for rose picking are from 5am to 10am when the plant oils are strongest. There is a noticeable scent of rose in the air, and workers — many with blossoms in their hair — are scattered throughout the field with huge sacks of pale pink flowers. We attempt to help with the harvest, and quickly realize that we must develop the skill for grasping the blossom at the precise place and pulling with the right force to collect the delicate flowers. We are painfully slow novices, although our hands become faintly scented with rose and we are happy (as it seems are the other workers) to be in that field, on that morning. At the manufacturing facility, this morning’s harvest, all 60,000 kg of it, is strewn in sacks surrounding the copper distilleries. Unbelievably, it takes 3000-4000 kg of rose blossoms to make 1 kg of rose oil. This year, conditions are dry, so the yield will be lower. Although the steam distillers run 24/7 during the harvest season, the oil is released only once a day. In what seems to be a special daily ritual, we are allowed access to the locked room where we get to see the release of the gallon or so of rose oil that day, a magical event akin to uncorking a special bottle of wine. At the end of it all, here is what I am most struck with:
  • Wonder, gratitude and respect for how hard people work to produce the products and ingredients on our shelves.
  • Awe over the immense amount of flowers needed to make a small bit of essential oil. This, and all other essential oils, are concentrated plant essences, to be used wisely.
  • Visible realization that if everything in the process is carefully tended to—from field to manufacture to storage—the end result will be a high quality product. This tenet could be applied to all kinds of products, in body care products and throughout the store.
As we continue work with Premium Body Care—we recently hit the mark of having approved over 2300 products that meet Premium Body Care—we hope to be able to offer a greater selection of products that are filled with such high quality ingredients, including natural fragrances.