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Essential Oils and Cointreau's Centrifuge

In 2011 I visited the Cointreau distillery in Angers, France. I wrote about that here. After I returned I realized I had a few more questions.

Luckily, Cointreau's Master Distiller Bernadette Langlais was in San Francisco last night so I had a chance to clarify some questions about the centrifuge part of the process.

To recap, Cointreau is made by steeping orange peels in high-proof neutral beet sugar alcohol and distilling it. This 'raw alcoholate' is reduced with water, centrifuged, then reduced with more water, more neutral alcohol, and sugar before filtration and bottling.

Cointreau production talk7

The centrifuge step was curious to me, so I asked Langlais for some clarification. She told me that this step removes some essential oils from the alcoholate. 

But then why not just use less oranges in the first place to have less essential oils?

It turns out that they use the centrifuge (which is a continuous centrifuge, by the way, not a batch process) to remove only certain essential oils. Surprisingly, they are not removing heavy ones that would collect at the outside of the centrifuge (a centrifuge separates by weight), but the lightest, zesty oils. 

Langlais said this was so that there is a proper balance between the 'juicy' flavors and zesty ones in Cointreau. If they left everything in, the liqueur would be overwhelmingly zesty.

Cointreau distillery stills2_tn

Local Sugars 

I also brought up the topic of Cointreau in Brazil and Argentina, where it is made with sugar cane alcohol and cane sugar, instead of beet sugar. This is due to local tax regulations that would make Cointreau prohibitively expensive if they used their regular beet sugar. I learned that they make the same 'raw alcoholate' (high-proof orange-infused alcohol) at the distillery in France and ship that to the local countries. There, they add more (cane) alcohol and (cane) sugar before bottling. 

Langlais said that it tastes the same as regular Cointreau. She also said that the sugar from cane or beets tastes exactly the same, and the more important part of the equation is the alcohol, even though it is 96% alcohol and supposedly neutral in flavor.


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what they are using the centrifuge for is probably terpene removal. terpenes contribute angular aromas that decrease the perception of sweetness.

the technique is detailed quite well in joseph merory's text from 1960, "food flavorings: composition, manufacture, and use".

in the text terpene removal is done via simple decanting but cointreau apparently speeds it up with the centrifuge. when the proof is lowered with water, terpenes end up coming out of solution and float on the top.

merory's book is pretty astounding and can gives rarely seen accounts of how many commercial products are manufactured. the book unfortunately is insanely expensive. if you every come across an affordable copy grab it.

Camper English

Thanks Stephen - you always have the coolest info.


i've collected all this info for years now. i always thought it was critical to redistribute all this consolidated knowledge if we wanted to see new indie producers entering the market. now there is a large amount of new producers but their products aren't always great. some new stars shine and deservedly will be around forever while sadly countless others will be out of business in the next few years unless they learn something.

if you ever find yourself with some free time to read, i can send you my yet to be published book on distillation.

cheers! -stephen

Todd Julien

That's a very interesting process. It seems very complex how they make that work. I know that doTerra uses a specialized technique for their essential oils. Our family uses the essential oils a lot. I was introduced them last year. You can find out what health problems the oils treat at www.calmingessentialoils.com.


I would love to read your book on distillation I'm a Canberra moonshiner looking to go legit. Pymblepatrick@msn.com seems very interesting I will be working as a distiller at a boutique disstilery in Canberra. Thanks

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