Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Inside Kovai: The fragrance of Kovai jasmine flowers wafts through Christine Dior, Chanel 5

Among flowers, jasmine is generally considered the most fragrant. And among jasmines, those that grown in the lush, green farms of Coimbatore and its suburbs are considered among the best in the world. Every year, tonnes of little, white jasmine grandiflorum (jathi malli), jasmine sambac (gundu malli) and jasmine articulatum (mullappoo) that are grown in the Kongu region spread their fragrance across the world through some of the best known perfumes in the world. 

Not many here besides the six aromatic solvent extractors located in Coimbatore are aware that the base component of prestigious international perfumes like Chanel 5, Christine Dior etc are extracted in Coimbatore and shipped to destinations like Grasse in France (perfume capital of the world) and even to the United States. 

“Every year, scores of experts in the perfume industry scout the jasmine farms of Coimbatore looking for the best smelling flowers and ensure that its extract reaches them,” says Mr. K. Loganathan, partner at Nesstate Flora, a solvent extraction firm based in Veerapandi near here. “While jathi malli essence is the base product for Chanel 5, Christine Dior’s famous product Poison uses the essence of tuberoses and Jadore uses gundu malli extracts that are produced here.”

According to him, the solvent extraction industry came up in Coimbatore back in the 1970s. “Flower farming took off in this district back in the 60s and the good yields that the farmers received naturally led industrialists to the perfume extraction industry a decade later,” says Loganathan, whose father was primarily a jasmine cultivator. “We chose to have our own set up since the flowers that we harvested in our farms were sought after in the perfume industry.”

Today, Logananthan makes regular visits to Grasse and other top perfume production areas across the world along his business associates to market his product that is produced in a small unit in his backyard. “While there are many solvent extraction companies across the country, we are the only ones who do ‘open flower extraction’ and when NCS Aromatics set up its unit in the 70s, it was the first of its kind in India,” he says.
Besides jasmines, the aromatic solvent extraction units here also generate extracts from tuberoses, mimosa, frangipani and a variety of other flowers, leaves and even stems of trees to cater to the needs of the global perfume industry.

According to the extractors, a litre of pure extract of jathi malli or gundu malli could fetch a price of several lakhs in the international market. On an average, top solvent extractors generate around one tonne of floral extract. “During peak flowering season, this region produces more than eight to ten tonnes of jasmine flowers every day that are comparable with the best in the world,” says another city-based solvent extractor. “The art is to carefully extract its fragrance before time runs out.”

The colours of the city's Poo market 

While the best jasmines available in the suburbs of Coimbatore are crushed for their seductive smell, varieties of other flowers ranging from common roses to marigolds to lotus buds and even rare orchids make their way to Poo (flower) Market located in the heart of the city. With over 200 different shops, members of the Flower Vendors Association here claim that they sell atleast 10 tonnes of flowers every day. 

“Besides catering to the local market in the city and its surrounding areas, a bulk of the flowers that are sold here go to almost all the cities in Kerala and also some cities in Karnataka and Maharashtra. After the flight services improved, we started sending our flowers to New Delhi and Mumbai whenever there is a demand for a particular flower in those areas,” said Mr. K.K. Ayyappan, treasurer of the Flower Vendors Association. “As our flowers gained prominence in Kerala, we are now exporting our flowers to several middle eastern cities like Sharjah, Dubai, Qatar and Doha.”

Although the flower market in Coimbatore is considered one of the largest in the state after Chennai , Madurai and Salem, it gained prominence during recent times for the famed ‘petals garland’ that was an innovation of the Poo Market vendors exclusively made for the Surya – Jothika wedding. “After that wedding, the petals garland came to be known as the Jothika garland and is our speciaility. We get orders from faraway places for making Jothika garlands for weddings,” said Mr. Ayyappan. 

According to city historian C. R. Elangovan, the flower market has been in existence here for the last fifty years. “Initially, it started off as a local market with barely ten shops or so. As more and more industries started coming up in Kovai, Ayudha Pooja festival that marks the end of Navarithri became an important event here and thousands of kilograms of flowers were bought from this market. In order to meet this huge demand, several flower vendors from all the neighbouring areas set up shop only during the Navarathiri season at that time. Gradually, the shops became permanent here and the Poomarket became what it is now,” Mr. Elangovan said.

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