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Any of a class of highly volatile (readily evaporating) organic compounds found in plants and usually named for them (e.g., rose oil, peppermint oil). They have been known and traded since ancient times. Many essential oils contain isoprenoids. Some, such as oil of wintergreen (methyl salicylate) and orange oil (d-limonene), have one predominant component, but most have dozens or hundreds. Trace components impart an oil's characteristic odour, which synthetic or blended oils can rarely duplicate. Essential oils have three primary commercial uses: as odorants in perfumes, soaps, detergents, and other products; as flavours in baked goods, candies, soft drinks, and many other foods; and as pharmaceuticals, in dental products and many medicines (seearomatherapy).
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on essential oil, visit Britannica.com.