The morning after we arrived in Bulgaria, we drove into the Balkan mountains to a small, beautiful village called Mirkovo. Fortunately, we had a navigation system (with--specifically--a chip for Bulgaria!), because trying to read street signs with names like "площад „Батенберг" made us laugh!
Ecomaat Distillery is located in a beautiful, ecologically pure region in the very heart of the Balkan Mountains.
They distill wild herbs and plants. Ecomaat is certified for organic production of essential oils. The company's main activity is the cultivation of essential oil crops and herbs, and processing these crops for essential oils and CO2 extracts. Their essential oil production is based on a traditional Bulgarian approach combined with cutting-edge distillation equipment and methodology.
Ecomaat’s basic principles of organic agriculture preserve the fertility of the Earth. They refrain from polluting activities to preserve the environment. They don't use synthetic pesticides or genetically modified organisms. Ecomaat's principles are established in order to respect their consumers, the planet, and future generations.
Upon arriving at Ecomaat (no small miracle!) we were transported into a world of vibrant CO2 extracts, extraordinary essential oils and a beautiful distillery! Atanas, the distiller at Ecomaat, gave us a wonderful tour of the distillery and CO2 extraction equipment.
The CO2 process is really interesting. It consists of pumping pressurized carbon dioxide into a chamber filled with plant matter (roses, chamomile, lilacs and so on). When carbon dioxide is subjected to pressure it becomes "supercritical" (meaning that it has liquid properties while remaining in a gaseous state). Because of the liquid properties of the gas, the CO2 functions as a solvent, pulling the oils, pigment and resin from the plant material. The temperature involved in the supercritical extraction process is low, around 95 to 100 degrees F, as opposed to 140 to 212 degrees F in steam distillation.
In some instances, a CO2 supercritical extract can retain the more genuine aroma of the plant. For example, I felt the aroma of the CO2 extracts of Lavender and Cardamom were more vibrant than the essential oil.
I asked Atanas to share his thoughts on CO2 extraction. Here is what he said:
"As mentioned during our meeting and discussions, one of the major advantages of the supercritical extraction is that the process is selective. By changing the work parameters (temperature and pressure, thus influencing the density of the solvent), we have the possibility to extract different compounds. This way we are able to make selective and total extraction resulting in 'select' and 'total' grade of the extract. In general the 'select' contains more essential oil, while the 'total' includes also the lipophilic compounds and plant waxes, in addition to the essential oil."
The "select" extraction results in a liquid that looks like an essential oil. The "totals" are always waxy, concrete like, and solid or semi solid. Personally, I loved the solids from the total extract. They aren't fat soluble, so they can be used to infuse a carrier oil like jojoba--much like the vanilla oleoresin infused jojoba that Karen makes at Aromatics International.
In between smelling essential oils, CO2 extracts and Bulgarian rose products, Atanas and his wife Yordanka (Dani for short) took us out to lunch in their village. We had the most wonderful meal of grilled vegetables, salads and meats with a frozen handmade yogurt for dessert, topped with walnuts and honey. Between the aromas of the oils and the aroma of the food, we were in Bulgarian heaven!