Lisa Piccininni, Ultra International Inc., USA

IFEAT’s 11th Study Tour took place in Spain from Friday June 15th to Saturday June 23rd 2018. Each study tour is different; for example, the Spanish tour contrasted sharply with last year’s Bulgaria tour not only in terms of the number of essential oils and other products seen but also in terms of the number of days and the distances travelled – over 1500 km in eight days and through some magnificent scenery.

The study tour started in Sevilla, and then went on to Segovia, Guadalajara, Barcelona, Lleida and Emporda. The eight days were filled with visits to a diversity of companies involved in our industry in Spain. Another important feature of the study tour was the interaction between delegates, from various sectors of the F&F industry, who were willing to share their knowledge and experience either through individual discussions or the “bus lectures”, in which delegates spoke about their countries and products.

The study tour is not for the faint of heart – up early, to bed late, and on the go all day long. We needed to see eucalyptus being harvested and our bus couldn’t manage the dirt roads, so the participants walked a couple of kilometres each way in bright sunshine to see this being done. Throughout the tour the weather was almost perfect, and the only downside was that the visit was too early in the season to see some of the products being harvested and processed.

Eucalyptus Globulus Diistillery

The tour started in Andalucia, Spain’s most southern province bordering Portugal, with visits in Sevilla and Huelva. The products seen here included Eucalyptus globulus, and Cistus labdaniferus, the source of various cistus-based products. Days 4 and 5 were spent in Segovia and Guadalajara in central Spain, where pine oleoresin (gum turpentine and terpenes), lavender, lavandin and helichrysum were the focus of attention. A presentation was also made on various aspects of Spain’s expanding essential oil sector. Day 6 was spent in Barcelona where distillation techniques (molecular, fractional and CO2), and warehousing dominated. In addition, AILIMPO – the Spanish industry association dealing with lemon and grapefruit – made an excellent presentation on Spain’s citrus industry and its citrus oils. Two companies involved in citrus oils – as well as other vegetal oils – were visited in Lleida on Day 7. The final day was spent close to the French border seeing the distillation of cypress and lentiscus. For many of the 50 delegates from 22 countries this was the first time they had seen the production and processing of some of these products.

Flamenco Dancing

Throughout the tour the delegates were warmly welcomed by the Spanish companies visited who explained in great detail the growing, harvesting, distillation and further processing of a range of Spanish produced F&F ingredients. It was good to see the important strides and efforts that Spain is taking to increase the volume and range of F&F ingredients being produced. The Tour started on Friday 15th June in the beautiful city of Sevilla with a welcome dinner at the Alfonso XIII Hotel, which 21 years earlier had been the location of IFEAT’s 1997 Seville Conference. After the dinner delegates saw a magnificent display of flamenco dancing and singing. Throughout the tour delegates were able to witness other aspects of Spain’s rich cultural heritage including a tour of Sevilla’s magnificent Real Alcazares Palace, a number of historic castles and the Roman aqueduct in Segovia. In addition, every day we experienced a wide range of excellent Spanish food and drinks that were available – although perhaps too much and too late for some!

On Saturday, June 16th we travelled to Huelva to visit two companies specialising in the processing of cistus, namely Biolandes, a world leader in the production of natural extracts offering more than 1,000 products, and the much smaller Aromas Y Esencias Del Andevalo, both family-run businesses. On arrival at Biolandes we visited a cistus field, all of which grow wild on uncultivated land and reproduces quickly after being cut or burnt. The cistus plant, a green shrub with sticky leaves and stems has a strong balsamic ambery odour, and develops a protective gum on the leaves and stems from April through to June. The material is ready for harvest from July through to October. In April, the plant generates a beautiful non-fragrant white flower that lasts only one week. There are five crimson marks on the five cistus petals that are known as the “tears of Christ” and a festival revolves around this blossom in the nearby town.

Cistus Harvesting

Since 2013 Biolandes has been operating an automated 24/7 cistus processing unit and accounts for some 40% of the world market for cistus essential oil and concretes. Aromas Y Esencias Del Andevalo’s cistus processing operations were a much simpler affair but very interesting nevertheless. Some 80% of cistus derivatives come from Spain and Andevalo is the dominant producing region. The hotter the weather, the more gum the cistus plant produces to protect it from the sun, thus the yield of gum is higher. If there is a rainy period the yield of gum is lower. A number of processing techniques are used to produce the range of cistus products available including cistus and labdanum oils, concrete, absolute, gum labdanum and ambreine. Products that are made by distillation or extraction of the twigs are called “cistus”, while products derived from the gum are called “labdanum”. The overall cistus harvest is roughly 10,000 tonnes of cistus bundles, of which 6,000 – 7,000 tonnes are made into gum labdanum, a key ingredient for the perfume industry. Approximately 300 – 350 tonnes of raw gum labdanum are produced each year. The distillation of cistus produces about 1.5 tonnes of essential oil, most of which is organic, and the extraction process produces 60 to 70 tonnes of concrete.

Gum Labdanum

On Sunday, June 17 the plan was to visit a thyme distilling operation but the crop was late so our first stop was a rural outdoor distillery where they were getting ready to distil Eucalyptus globulus. We saw the still being filled with dry leaves (unlike China and South Africa) and sealed with clay at the top. We then visited a nearby eucalyptus harvesting operation involving a long walk. On the way back, we stopped off at the distillery to see the recently distilled eucalyptus oil coming from the condenser. An estimated 70,000 tonnes of eucalyptus are distilled annually in Spain. One factor facilitating the increased availability of almost cost free raw material is government subsidies to clean forest areas in an effort to minimise forest fires, which have been a major problem on the Iberian Peninsula in recent years.

The next visit was to Destilaciones Bordas Chinchurreta S.A. located in Sevilla, a third generation family company approaching its 100th anniversary and one that had been intimately involved with IFEAT since its formation. The Managing Director, Ramon Bordas III, a member of the local organising committee, laid on a series of excellent presentations, including one on the use of essential oils in animal feeds; a smelling session and a tour of the company’s very impressive 19,000 m2 processing operations. Bordas is a leading supplier of ingredients for human and animal food as well as the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical sectors. The company sponsored a superb lunch in the Pelli-designed 40-floor skyscraper overlooking Sevilla.

In the afternoon, we visited Aromasur, S.L. some 75 km north of Sevilla, near the endemic cistus fields. The company was acquired in 1991 by Albert Vieille, and we were welcomed by Chairman Georges Ferrando and his colleagues who showed us around the processing operations and organised a smelling session of company products. With 10 distillation, rectification, and solvent extraction units, the operation continually processes cistus, labdanum gum, gum resins, tonka beans, ambrette, osmanthus, floral concrete, olibanum, myrrh, rosemary and other botanical materials. However, cistus is Aromasur’s major product and it works closely with the regional authorities to better manage cistus growing and ensure an environmentally sustainable supply.

Aromasur Smelling Session

Day 4 was a new experience for most delegates as we visited the pine forests and the pine tapping operations of Luresa Resinas, S.L. (formerly La Union Resinera Espanola, founded in 1898) at Coca, near Segovia. In March 2013, Resinas Brasil Group, a company employing 2,000 people, acquired Luresa. We saw the tapping of 50-75 year old pine trees involving incisions being made into the tree and sulphuric acid applied to stimulate the flow of oleoresin. Each tree annually produces around 3.5 kg of oleoresin. We then visited the nearby factory to see the oleoresin being processed into rosin and turpentine, from which many terpene ingredients are produced for use in fragrances. Finally the group moved to the beautiful 15th century Coca Castle, where the General Manager made a detailed presentation on the global rosin and turpentine sectors, while several delegates discussed trends in the global terpenes industry and its vital role in ensuring the future sustainability of the F&F sector.

On Day 5 we travelled to the beautiful historic town of Brihuega, some 920 metres above sea level. Nearby we visited the 125 ha of lavender/lavandin and 10 ha of immortelle (helichrysum) fields as well as the impressive new distillation facility of Intercova Aromaticas founded in 2015, and incorporating some of the latest technologies. The joint owner Emilio Valeros, who is one of the few Spanish perfumers of international renown, guided us around the facilities. A superb lunch was held in Brihuega Castle and a detailed presentation on the Spanish and French lavender industry was followed by another presentation on Spanish essential oils, including fennel, immortelle, marjoram, rosemary, and thyme.

Day 6 was spent in Barcelona at the Ventos operations seeing various forms of distillation as well as touring the warehouse facilities. In addition, José Antonio Garcia of AILIMPO gave an excellent presentation on the Spanish citrus industry. In the evening another major Barcelona-based trading company, Lluch Essence, entertained us to a superb buffet and paella alongside the Barcelona beach.

On Day 7 we journeyed to Lleida, one of the best European horticultural areas, to visit Textron and toured their new operations producing a range of vegetable oils mainly for the cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical sectors. Then on to nearby Dallant, who process a range of citrus and other fruits and deliver unique flavours and other ingredients to the food and beverage industries. We toured their Moleva plant and saw the processing of fruit juices, fruit by-products and various speciality compound flavours, emulsions and juice blends.

The final day saw a visit to Jordi Calonge’s cypress and lentiscus distillation operation at Empordu. After loading the still and visiting the plantation, delegates were able to “chill out” after a very busy week and enjoy a string quartet prior to lunch as well as cooling off in the pool. In the evening we enjoyed a farewell dinner and firework display followed by a disco – a fitting end to a superb week.

Group photo Coca

Throughout the tour, delegates received generous gifts from the companies they visited and enjoyed some excellent local cuisine and entertainment. From the start to the end we were blessed with good weather and excellent organisation. The Local Organising Committee of Jordi Calonge and Ramon Bordas as well as Events&Co, the tour agent, and the many Spanish companies that participated, as well as IFEAT, are to be warmly congratulated on providing yet another memorable IFEAT Study Tour. For me, the Study Tour was a wonderful and unforgettable experience.