Rose oil is a product which has made Bulgaria famous. It is rich in substances whose unique beneficial effects on the body are highly appreciated. Owing to the quality of Bulgarian oil derived from roses, it is the most expensive rose oil the world over, and the predominant part of the production is exported.
Roses: imported from their country of origin, China, and now a recognized Bulgarian product
Roses are believed to have their origin in South China and were imported in Bulgaria via Persia, now called Iran.
Nowadays Rosa Damascena is a well known Bulgarian sort of roses yielding high-quality oil.
Rose planting, life, and how long it takes until the petals are good for pickings
Roses are planted in November. After the second year, the plant’s reproductive organs develop. After a period of 8 to 10 years, the yield from the plant decreases, although with good care it can last for 30 and even 40 years.
Regular annual care is needed, such as pruning, processing the soil around, fertilization.
The area of rose plantations in Bulgaria totals 1300 hectares. Most of them are located in the Rose Valley, where the soil is auspicious, with a plethora of humus, and the other conditions also contribute to the best environment possible for growing roses for oil.
The origin of the rose industry in Bulgaria
According to German historical sources, rose water started to be derived via distillation in 1680. The distillation was double, and the water obtained had a strong appealing scent. However, other sources quote the selling of rose water in 1650 at the Edirne market in Turkey.
Back in those times, roses were grown in the towns which continue to be the center of the rose industry: Kazanlak and Karlovo. It was then that the name Rose Valley was given to the area adjacent to the south slopes of the Balkan Range.
Visitors to Kazanlak should visit the Rose Museum, a unique museum of this kind for the whole world. There, they can learn fascinating information about the history of roses and of the Bulgarian rose industry.
What helped greatly to derive rose oil and water through distillation was Bulgarians’ experience in brandy production. The method of producing brandy was improved to obtain equipment for double distillation. The oil derived in that manner is in a greater amount, and it also boasts lasting scent and long life.
The precious liquid is one of Bulgaria’s treasures
Nowadays, the oil is rightly named the “liquid gold” of Bulgaria. It takes a multitude of petals, over 1,000, to produce just one gram of the oil. It is preferred and used by renowned cosmetics and perfumery companies which appreciate its quality surpassing the quality of its counterparts produced in Turkey, China, India, Morocco.
The right timing and the specifics of rose petals picking
The right period, when roses start to bloom, is about the third week of May. The duration of the period is up to 3-4 weeks, depending on the specific weather conditions then.
The rule of thumb is to spot the first bud formed in the plot: then rose petals picking can start in about 40 days. Then the buds will have blossomed, or at least their outer leaves will have opened. Then, at the right time, petals picking is started. It continues until all the petals have been collected. The method of detaching the petals is crucial: it is “pinching” them right under the base.
Every day petals picking starts in the morning, very early, at sunrise. It has to finish by 9-10 o’clock because by then the dew is still on the flowers. The petals are gathered in baskets and then transferred to sacks, to be transported to the distillery. The weight of each sack is about 25 kilograms. The transporting is carried out as quickly as possible, to start the processing immediately on receiving the amounts of petals, as the etheric oil starts evaporating from them. The maximum period from the picking until the distillation starts is 15 hours.
Distillation in the past and nowadays
When the rose industry originated in Bulgaria, the oil was distilled on the spot. The distilling vessels were placed over a fire and the production started right by the rose fields. Even while using that primitive method, the yields of oil were very high: just 2,500 to 3,000 kilograms of rose petals were necessary to obtain one kilogram of oil. According to statistics, nowadays the yields are not as high as they were at the dawn of the Bulgarian rose industry. To produce one kilogram of oil, about 4,000 kilograms of petals are necessary. Under unfavorable conditions, even up to 8,000 kilograms of petals may be needed, which raises the price of oil obtained.
It is essential to implement distillation over a light fire. In the distillation vessel, rose petals and clear water are boiled. The rose water flows out in a trickle and is collected in bottles. To obtain oil, the contents of bottles from several vessels are poured into a vessel again, and the second boiling begins. The oil, which is lighter than the water, floats on the surface. It is collected carefully.
Nowadays Bulgaria’s annual production of rose oil is over 1.6 tons on average. The main markets for the “liquid gold” are the USA, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, China.
The quality of water used for distillation
Only river or dam water is used, after it passes through filters, to eliminate physical impurities. The water has to be biologically clean, with neutral or close to neutral pH. No water from the water supply network is used, because it is chlorinated, and that can alter the quality of rose petals and worsen the quality of oil and water derived. The water used in distilleries is checked and analyzed by regional sanitary inspectorates.
How the oil produced is measured
According to tradition, the amount of oil derived by rose petals distillation is measured in units called muskals. A muskal is equal to approximately 5 grams, or more precisely, to 4.9844 grams. That is also a word used for the decorative wooden bottle packaging sold as souvenirs. “Muskal” is an Arab word. Another unit used to measure rose oil is in konkums. A konkum is a copper vessel which can hold 4 kilograms and 88 grams.