Steam distillation is the main commercial extraction procedure for the production of essential oils from almost any type of plant material. Solvent extraction is also used commercially and yields a resinoid, concrete or absolute according to the solvents and techniques used (see Chapter 4). Both steam distillation and solvent extraction are used on a laboratory scale to produce oils and extracts for analysis. Other methods of extraction, such as supercritical fluid extraction (SFE), which uses supercritical C02 as the extraction solvent, are now being developed and used on both commercial and laboratory scales. The extracts produced by SFE may contain different materials from the steam-distilled oil because of the solvating power of C02 and the lower extraction temperature, which reduces thermal degradation. The C02 extract may therefore have an odour closer to that of the original material and may contain different fragrant compounds. The choice of extraction procedure depends on the nature and amount of material available, and the qualities desired in the extract. Solvent extraction is better suited to small sample amounts or volatile materi­als that could be lost during a distillation. Steam distillation is used in the laboratory if it is important to replicate the commercial process or to release all the volatile oils from deep within seeds, dried fruits or woody materials.

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