Many people are unaware of just how many plants, seeds and fruit are transformed into powerful essential oil. The oil form of these helpful, organic entities that comes directly from the earth are much more convenient to use and more readily available than the plant, seed or fruit itself. But how does this process of changing one into the other actually happen? Many oils are made via a specific distillation process, but some go through a step-by-step process known as sfumatura, which is also known as slow folding. Fruits that have a peel work best in this process. This is a much more traditional way of extracting the necessary oils and ensures high-grade essential oils as a result.
The way in which this process is carried out is fascinating, as this is done via manual extraction. The citrus peels from the fruit are pressed together using a specific type of sponge which brings forth the natural oils. Despite the other methods there are for essential oil extraction, sfumatura happens to produce the best, most high-grade essential oil. This process has been done historically for centuries and dates all the way back to the 18th century in Italy. It is still practiced currently in Sicily, however, it is rarer and can be increasingly more difficult to find.
The process has various parts but is actually quite simple. A particular knife that has the shape of a spoon, called a rastrello, is what is used to ensure the pulp is completely separated from the peel. Due to the sharpness of this knife and its curve, it does a remarkable job of getting every last bit of pulp out of the peel. Then the peel is washed with limewater and hangs to dry for anywhere from 7 to 12 hours. The amount of time that it takes to fully dry depends on a couple of different factors: the humidity in the air, the actual temperature and how ripe the fruit was when it started the process. In extreme cases it can take up to 24 hours to dry.
It’s important that the peel is fully dry because this step helps to harden the peel. This is directly tied to the peel experiencing the oil coming to the surface from its oil glands more effectively. The reason limewater is used in the rinsing process is because the lime elements help to neutralize the acid that is naturally produced by the peel. This can interfere with the oil so the lime helps curb that reaction.
A terra cotta bowl is used next with several natural sponges. The peel is then folded and pressed against the sponge in a circular motion repeatedly. All the moisture is then caught in the bowl. After the peel has been sufficiently used, the sponges are squeezed to make sure every single drop of the oil is obtained. This is the process of sfumatura and it provides some of the most potent and effective essential oil that you can use.
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