The current text provides a comprehensive introduction to essential oils, their biosynthesis, naming, analysis, and chemistry. Importantly, this text quickly brings the reader up to a level of competence in the authentication of essential oils and their components. It gives detailed descriptions of enantiomers and other forms of stereoisomers relevant to the study of natural volatiles and essential oils. The text also describes GC-MS work and provides tips on rapid calculation of arithmetic indices, how to interpret suggested names from the NIST mass spectral library, and what additional efforts are required to validate essential oils and defeat sophisticated adulteration tactics. In brief, essential oils are mixtures of volatile organic compounds that were driven out of the raw plant material in distillation, condensed into an oil that is strongly aroma emitting, and collected in a vessel as the top layer (uncommonly bottom layer) of two phase separated liquids: oil and water. Essential oils commonly include components derived from two biosynthetic groups, being terpenes (monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes and their derivatives) and phenylpropanoids (aromatic ring with a propene tail). The current text provides details of how terpenes and phenylpropanoids are further categorised according to their parent skeleton, then recognised by the character of oxidation, which may be from oxygen, nitrogen, or sulphur, or the presence/absence of a double bond. The essential oil’s science niche is an epicentre of individuals from diverse backgrounds, such as aromatherapy, pharmacy, synthetic and analytical chemistry, or the hobbyist. To make the science more accessible to the curious student or researcher, it was necessary to write this fundamentals-level introduction to the chemistry of essential oils (i.e., organic chemistry in the context of essential oils), which is herein presented as a comprehensive and accessible overview. Lastly, the current review constitutes the only resource that highlights common errors and explains in simplistic detail how to correctly interpret GC-MS data then accurately present the respective chemical information to the wider scientific audience. Therefore, detailed study of the contents herein will equip the individual with prerequisite knowledge necessary to effectively analyse an essential oil and make qualified judgement on its authenticity.
Sadgrove, N. J., et al. (2022). “Fundamental Chemistry of Essential Oils and Volatile Organic Compounds, Methods of Analysis and Authentication.” Plants 11(6): 789.