Why the Same Essential Oil Sometimes Smell Different

Ever wondered why your therapeutic grade peppermint, lavender, or Thieves sometimes smells different from bottle to bottle?  Sometimes a bit sweeter or a bit “green”.

You’re experiencing the delight due to the variance of nature.  There are many things that account for the quality, fragrance, and effects of an essential oil.   The altitude, soil composition, temperature, time of day the plant was harvested, how long it sits in the field, pressure of the distillation cooker, length of the distillation time, etc. I by no means am an expert in the art of growing crops and distilling them for aromatherapy use. It’s a complicated process that I prefer the experts to do for me.

There could be variance in oils due to poor quality control if you aren’t dealing with pure-therapeutic grade essential oils.  Oils that are clearly marked “Do not take internally“, “External use only” “Do not apply directly to skin” are all indicating the quality is not of therapeutic grade.  These oils are NOT safe to use on pets, children, elderly, or people who are have compromised health. They are NOT safe to take internally.

Recently there have also been companies that claim to have “the highest frequency essential oils” or “oils that are THE BEST in the world!“, but unfortunately their chemistry doesn’t hold up under evaluation from laboratories like ChromaDex, American Analytical Chemistry Labs, or Flora Research.  Empty claims that are all talk and no substance. Who are these self proclaimed essential oil experts anyway?!?!?!

Below is a report that illustrates how oils are compared by viable 3rd party testing; the type of testing that has nothing to do with any of the companies tested.  As you can clearly see, the 3rd sample indicates that the frankincense being tested doesn’t have any of the boswellic acid components!  Boswellic acid is the primary health supporting component of frankincense, without it is like having a car with no gas in it.  Unfortunately the trainers of the company who sells that 3rd sample tells their users it is safe to use that oil on children, pets, and internally!  Very sad and frightening.

Click on the image to see it larger.


Alright, back to the aroma of an essential oil. Can a true therapeutic grade essential oil have variance in the aroma? YES!!!   Very slight differences in the therapeutic ranges of each of the plants chemical component can make for very different perception to our noses.

For example, recently it was brought to my attention that peppermint smelled “different” than normal.  As a user of essential oils for over 12 years I have noticed the fragrance vary from time to time with different crops.  I never thought anything of it because I knew that nature doesn’t always look or smell the same from year to year.


What is exciting about this particular batch is that the farmer and distiller responded personally to the variance in chemistry. He tells us EXACTLY why the aroma smells “different”:

“In 15 seconds of smelling the oil, I knew what was being smelled and considered “different.”

Peppermint is produced in Washington, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Indiana, and Utah and in several foreign countries like India, France, and a few others in smaller amounts.
Peppermint is a very easy crop to grow, but to produce good oil is a “little different.” It demands more knowledge and experience, and perhaps a little more care. You might call it, the art of producing a quality oil. One has to know what that “little difference” is and what one is doing.

Peppermint is sensitive to altitude, longitude and climate. Weather has a major effect on it. Peppermint produces two major compounds: Methone and Menthol. More or less of the percentages will produce a difference in smell and effect. Peppermint does not normally produce low levels of menthone, nor high levels of menthol at altitudes above 4,000 feet. Therefore, a grower in Idaho, north of Boise, grows great peppermint, but does not distill it because he is above 4,500 feet and his menthol will not be over 38%.  His menthone will be around 15% so he only grows peppermint to sell the roots to other growers at lower altitudes. His peppermint is within the normal range, but the smell is “off” a little as some people would describe it and does not smell like candy.

This year (2012) I started cutting and test distilling on Aug. 25 and finished September 21 with the finest quality oil ever produced in the U.S. with the menthone under 9% and menthol over 60% . This was simply because I experimented and discovered that at a higher altitude and below the 45th parallel, peppermint must be harvested at a different time of maturity.

With that said, peppermint also needs a certain curing time to bring in the fragrance that most people prefer. When you cut peppermint it needs to lie on the ground for a certain length of time. However, if a storm comes while the peppermint is on the ground, the farmer has to bring in his crop or lose it and sometimes it has not had enough time to mature the fragrance, but it does NOT change the compounds.

Yes, the smell was a little different from this summer’s crop than from last year’s production, and that was simply because the farmer did not let the crop lay long enough in the field to mature the fragrance. However, the compounds are within the acceptable range as always, with the total menthol at 47.7%. The menthone is 19% which is in the middle range. Maturing the plant another day would have brought the menthone down to around 15 % which would have lessened the green smell a little.

The flip side to that is that the higher menthone, the greater cooling effect on inflamed nerves. The higher the menthol, the greater the benefit in penetration, so it is a positive outcome regardless of which compound is higher or lower. ”

–  Gary Young, Young Living Essential Oils

Holy cow! That is way more answer than expected and it is totally awesome.  This is why the same essential oil sometimes smells different.

There is a reason I have trusted and used Young Living Oils since 2001; Gary Young understands what it takes to plant, grow, harvest, distill, and deliver essential oils to our door. We never have to worry if the oil is pure or if it may hurt our loved ones. I can recommend them to my clients, family, and friends without ever second guessing that they will get the best quality that will improve their health.


Thank you Gary & Mary Young, plus all of you at Young Living Corporate that work tirelessly to give us the best.

Jen Springer is a Holistic Nutrition Expert who currently serves 10,000 clients.  Her approach to health is refreshing and out of the box, yet makes so much sense.  Through her entertaining and informative webinars, blog posts, and personal recovery program Let’s Get Physical: Anxiety is NOT All in Your Head, her clients quickly get results even though  they’ve spent years of chasing for answers. Jen has been a health educator and practitioner for the last 10 years.

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