Petitgrain oil is produced from the leaves and twigs of the bitter orange tree (Citrus aurantium amara), a member of the Rutaceae plant family.
These evergreen trees can grow up to 6 metres in the wild, but will only grow to half this height in cultivation.
It is mainly distilled by small farmers and delivered in small quantities to local traders (collectors), who then test, batch and resell the product to export houses. Harvesting and distillation is done between the months of October and March.
The tree produces a distinctive 'double leaf', which has a small bulge at the base of the main leaf. Its fruit is used to flavour liqueurs, such as Grand Mariner and Triple sec, and its flowers provide neroli and orange blossom oils, It is also used widely in perfumery for its strong, bitter-sweet, citrusy odour with floral and woody notes.
Paraguay is the dominant producer of petitgrain oil and in recent years annual production has ranged between 180 – 200 tonnes, accounting for over 80% of global output. Almost all the oil is exported.
The on going winter months are a lean time for production but this is no aberration. The busy crop season peaks around October. Farmers are apprehensive of the plants being affected by frost if cut earlier than necessary.
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