Spicy all-rounder

The clove: it can serve as a spice or a remedy, a relaxant or a perfume. At Symrise, it plays an important role in the Oral Care segment. On the island of Sulawesi, Symrise has developed a process together with the farmers and one supplier that will make clove cultivation more resource-friendly.

Cloves are versatile: In India, they belong in nearly every curry; in Europe and the USA, they refine meat dishes, baked goods and warm drinks in the winter; in some regions of Africa, they give flavor to rice dishes. The oil of cloves is popular in aromatherapy, and it’s used to combat toothaches in naturopathy. But the clove is an interesting plant from a scientific perspective as well: Essential oils generally have 250 to 500 individual components. The clove has only 50 to 150 – and its main component is eugenol, the principal ingredient of clove oil. It makes up 60 to 85 percent of the oil, depending on whether the flowers, the leaves or the stems are being distilled. At Symrise, cloves play an important role in the Oral Care segment. “If you’re familiar with cloves from cooking, you don’t necessarily connect them with oral care,” says Clair Mok, marketing expert for Oral Care in Singapore. However, in some regions, oral care is exactly where cloves are used; they’re considered antibacterial and antioxidant, they’re good for the gums, and they whiten teeth. Particularly in Asia, almost all oral hygiene products contain eugenol. The market for them in the Asia Pacific region is growing by about eight percent annually. By 2024, it’s estimated to amount to as much as 31.5 billion US Dollars. New products often influence this growth – charcoal is especially popular, as are a variety of other natural materials used in flavor concepts. “But cloves remain one of the main components,” asserts Dirk Schwannecke, VP Oral Care APAC. “Cloves are also special because they are perceived differently in different countries.” The marketing experts have to pay particular attention to this. “We look closely at what consumers like and what the trends are. Based on this, we decide how visible to make some of the ingredients in the end product,” explains Clair. “If we’re developing a new toothpaste, for example, and cloves are a primary taste component but are also important for its function, we advise our customers to show the flowers on the packaging. It’s always about emotions, too – what we know, what’s familiar. In addition – and this is becoming increasingly important – there’s the aspect of naturalness.”

REGIONAL PREFERENCES Eugenol is one of the 20 most important ingredients alongside menthol, anethole, mint oils from various sources and eucalyptol. It’s found in toothpaste, mouthwash, dental floss and even dental powder, which is used primarily in Bangladesh. Flavorists Annie Chan, Qinyi Phua and Alice Leong have already developed several hundred concepts for toothpaste and mouthwash. It’s a complex topic. “We have to understand exactly what our customers want, and also what the consumers in the various regions and countries want,” Annie says. Her colleague Qinyi adds: “Our creations are based on guidelines that the customers provide and on market research that we develop with our marketing department.” Whereas Japanese and Chinese consumers are more restrained in their response to clove flavor, in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, it can be found in up to 60 percent of all Oral Care products. Yet there are differences even within countries. In India, for instance, there is a great north-south disparity.

Symrise uses eugenol as well as leaf oils and flower oils in flavor creation. Depending on the application, the flavorists choose from a number of variants to make the mixtures more complex. “We use natural oils because they are more authentic and the trend here in the Asia Pacific region, like everywhere else, is toward more naturalness,” explains Siddhartha Chatterjee, Senior Flavorist. What we use also depends on the price and availability. “That’s why we’re always glad when new, sustainable raw material sources become accessible.”

Flavorists Alice Leong, Annie Chan and Qinyi Phua (from left) have already developed several hundred concepts for toothpaste and mouthwash with clove oil.

Dr. Norbert Braun and his colleague analyze the quality of the cloves using the gas chromatograph.

Local partner Van Aroma provides its distillation facilities to the clove farmers.

It is estimated that there are 30 million carnation trees on Sulawesi.

Teams from Symrise and Van Aroma check product quality: (from left) Ramkumar Venkataraman (Symrise), Van Aroma employee, Sandeep Tekriwal (Van Aroma) and Dr. Norbert Braun (Symrise).

With their own distillation plants, the farmers on Sulawesi are able to expand their businesses and make a valuable contribution to the preservation of the village communities, supported by Symrise and Van Aroma.

SUSTAINABLE ADDED VALUE The reference area is the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, where Symrise has closely connected its own supply chain with farmers and supplier Van Aroma. Together, the partners have developed a process that will make clove cultivation more resource-friendly. “We want to bolster the farmers on Sulawesi for the future so that they can earn money consistently, the natural raw materials can be grown sustainably and, at the same time, we can source the materials reliably,” says Ramkumar Venkataraman, VP Purchasing APAC. A transparent, sustainable value chain is especially important in making this happen. “When our long-term partner Van Aroma approached us with an idea for a joint project, we were enthusiastic from the start. They supply us with patchouli and citronella oils in addition to clove products,” adds Ramkumar. Symrise is interested in holistic development; the company has undertaken a number of steps together with Van Aroma. First, employees showed several farmers how they could use nets to collect the valuable leaves, which they had previously left lying under their trees. They then expanded this training to a number of communities. Next in line was production. Symrise provides technical training so people can use their own distilleries to process the cloves, along with many other products, and earn money all year long. Van Aroma also benefits from this arrangement. “We get good, sustainable, transparent, reliably available clove products that we can offer worldwide, particularly through our cooperation with Symrise,” says Sandeep Tekriwal, co-owner and CEO. “Working directly in the villages has the additional advantage that the farmers see us as a reliable partner, so we can develop a long-term working relationship,” adds Ramkumar.


The clove plays a rather inconspicuous but important role in perfumes. Because of its intense aroma, it cannot be too dominant and sometimes should not even be detectable. “But it is absolutely indispensable in the right dosage and difficult to replace,” says Dr. Norbert Braun, VP Innovation Scent & Care. For this reason, cloves usually make up only a fraction of fragrance compositions, one to ten per thousand ingredients. Though eugenol is the key component, researchers are also looking at others: One example is the humulene fraction of cloves, which is comprised primarily of alpha-Humulene and beta-Caryophyllene. Not many companies have used these terpenes before, and researchers are experimenting to find out how and whether Symrise can use them. “This could result in exciting new fragrance notes and would be very sustainable because we would make even greater use of the plants,” Norbert adds. To test this, he brought back clove pollen and dried flower petals from his last trip to Indonesia. Symrise doesn’t yet utilize the oils that they produce. “But now I can experiment with them in the lab.”

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Working in the villages has the advantage that the farmers see us as a reliable partner.
Ramkumar Venkataraman, VP Purchasing APAC, Scent & Care Singapur

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