Sustainable economy is a real challenge for the industry: using the byproducts from the food industry and turning them into valuable products, minimizing transport routes – all while maintaining quality standards. Symrise recognized the advantage of further utilization of co-pro­ducts 20 years ago and developed the patented SymTrap® technology.


Jennifer Bufalo opens a bag of cloves. The biologist with a PhD in her field breathes it in and tries to recognize the full scent profile. Then the lab head, who is primarily concerned with natural substances for the Scent & Care unit, wonders what ingredient from the clove could lend a new olfactory element to a traditional perfume ingredient. Symrise has been using the essential clove oil for decades as a product, for example, in the area of dental care or in perfumes. Most essential oils are created through steam distillation. This process involves entraining the fragrance molecules in the vapor and then condensing it into liquid form. The essential oils are collected, and a lot of water is produced as a byproduct. There are more valuable ingredients in there: small amounts of intense and very volatile molecules that still smell strongly of cloves even after the essential oil has been separated.

Bufalo has been working for Symrise in Brazil since 2015 and has been heading the lab in Holzminden for a few months now. In her hometown, she made a discovery while visiting a supplier. “I found a few containers there and, after asking what was in them, was told that it was the leftover water from the clove distillation that gets thrown away.” She gets curious, smells the liquid and instantly recognizes that she has discovered something special. She takes a sample and shows it to two Symrise perfumers, Fanny Grau and Isaac Sinclair, who confirm the peculiarity of her find: They had never smelled a clove scent like this.

Bufalo recognizes the potential of the original byproduct and prepares it in the lab. For this, she uses the SymTrap® process and what is known as the aqueous phase. Symrise developed and patented it 20 years ago. The liquid first passes through the adsorber column while specific temperatures or pressure levels are maintained – Bufalo won’t reveal the exact conditions. After the process, the fragrance molecules remain suspended in the equipment and are then dissolved out again by means of a food-grade and natural extraction agent. The liquid byproduct from the distillation process produces a new product that differs from essential clove oil in odor and is therefore ideally suited as an exclusive additional material in fragrance blends.

SymTrap® can concentrate natural scents once or also thousands of times over. 

Reprocess natural byproducts

Thanks to the SymTrap® process, co-products can be recycled. Just a few buildings away from Bufalo’s laboratory, a dozen silver columns about 1.50 meters high stand in a high rack. Lab man­ager Dominik Winkler knows his way around the SymTrap® technology. “We are working at two levels: The aqueous phases are either delivered directly to us and we get the molecules out with the help of SymTrap®, or we install small facilities directly where the aqueous phases start.” The advantage of the latter is that we don’t have to transport the large quantities of liquid around the world – this reduces emissions and costs.

In the meantime, Symrise has created hundreds of scents and fragrances with the SymTrap® process and 40 to 50 of them are in the current portfolio. Apples, red and citrus fruits, nuts and malt can also be utilized like this. Manufacturing non-alcoholic beer or processing coffee beans for instant coffee can also involve the use of aqueous phases. “With technology, we can process natural byproducts and capture and concentrate aromas,” says Winkler. Another positive effect: The leftover water is clean and can be piped back into the environment.

SymTrap® also allowed for the creation of a complex flavor profile in a lot of products. “Oranges, for examples, are pressed where they are grown and the juice is concentrated via a dehydration process. The concentrate has a lower volume and can be transported at a lower cost and with less CO2 output,” says Winkler. The disadvantage is that the orange juice tastes flatter than freshly pressed juice when it is rehydrated at its final destination. It’s missing the aroma molecules from the water that was removed. “With SymTrap®, we can put these back in the product.”

Dominik Winkler is one of the experts for SymTrap® technology in the Taste, Nutrition & Health segment as laboratory manager.

In the lab, Jennifer Bufalo works on new solutions for the Scent & Care segment at Symrise.  

“With natural materials the quality often varies with the season and harvest time. We put a lot of value on the standardization of products, and this means we have to develop methods.”

Jennifer Bufalo,
Lab head

Get valuable ingredients

Another argument for using the SymTrap® process on site: The aqueous phase goes off very quickly. If it is processed right after harvest, the valuable substances are still there. For this reason, Symrise has installed sophisticated systems where a lot of raw materials grow – in Germany, France, Spain, Poland, Brazil, South Africa and Japan. In these facilities, cartridges with the absorber material, which are replaced regularly, collect the aroma molecules. In Symrise production, a food-grade extraction agent dissolves them out again. These natural aroma concentrates are then used as natural building blocks in scents or fragrance creations, for example, and can also be applied to a carrier via spray drying.

Back to Bufalo’s lab: “Of course, there are challenges, too,” says the scientist. “With natural materials the quality often varies with the season and harvest time. We put a lot of value on the standardization of products, and this means we have to develop methods.” This is why the constant exchange of knowledge with her colleagues from the other divisions is important. The Taste, Nutrition & Health colleagues in France have developed the “Garden Lab,” for example, with the help of Dominik Winklers team. The name arises from the Fine Fragrances department: “Our colleagues extracted volatile aroma molecules from the aqueous phases that result from the manufacture of vegetable puree.” These can, among other things, give the purees back their full flavor, just like with the orange juice, and are also used rather unusually at first glance: Symrise Fine Fragrances has integrated a wide variety of diverse molecules from asparagus, leek, cauliflower, artichoke and even onion into its fragrance creations. “They come from the byproducts of a completely different production and now give a kick to new fragrance compositions – that is really a special innovation,” emphasizes Bufalo.