Bulgaria’s Rose Valley is at once both mysterious and beautiful – emanating not only the particular smell the stretch of land is known for but also that of a deep-rooted history. There’s a good chance that any particular house you stumble across shelters individuals bent on upholding the traditions of the region and the age-old recipes for creating genuine rose oil.
For the production of 1 kg of rose oil, one ton of rose petals is needed, and in difficult weather conditions the amount of petals needed can reach 3-4 tons. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, over the last few years Bulgaria has started to produce three times more “Damastsena” rose oil which is considered as the most qualitative of all sorts. The main reason for this is that in 2016 the selling price of one kilo has increased from 4,000 euros per kilo to 13,500 euros and many farmers has decided to cultivate rose fields. In order to sell more at a higher price, some of them have even started to make adulteration by simply adding mix different essential oils to increase the quantity which has led to overproduction.
„Being a rose oil producer nowadays in Bulgaria is the equivalent of being a masochist.” said Tanya Popova, whose rose oil factory is located in Central Bulgarian village of Assen.
Rose oil is one of the most famous Bulgarian symbols. Some people even called it liquid gold. For most Bulgarians this is not only cosmetic staple but impersonation of them as nation. One of the established rose oil makers is Tanya Popova who, just over 10 years ago, decided to start her own business alongside her husband using recipes inherited from her grandmothers. Shortly after, the establishment of a rose factory in her own backyard ensured she quickly become sought after by international clients far past the borders of Bulgaria.
“I make rose oil not only from my fields. One of the biggest French companies are giving me their production to make rose oil for them using my recipes and knowledge.” said Popova.
She is wearing a black cotton blouse combined with white cotton pants. Her haircut is casual and tied.
“I didn’t expect to be that hard. I didn’t expect that there will be so many dishonest people and i`m still surprised of the Government’s reactions.” Said Tanya, visibly tired from the difficult conditions where her passion is often her main driving force.
Bulgarian rose oil most is one of the commonly used ingredient for expensive and famous perfumes and many other cosmetic and health products, according to data from the Bulgarian National Association Essential oils, Perfumery and cosmetics.
“Our rose oil have the highest content of different components-over 280 compared to Turkish which has 230 and Chinese with 130. The Bulgarian rose oil has also been successful on the Japanese market. 95 percent of the Bulgarian rose oil is exported to foreign countries“, explained Tanya Ivanova.
The only other competitors in this branch are Turkey, Afghanistan, China and Iran but their production is not with of the same quality as Bulgarian rose oil, said from the National laboratory “Bulgarian rose”.
In Bulgarian lands the trade with this product began in 17th century. Official data from the Ministry of Agriculture shows that Bulgaria is the biggest exporter of Rose oil in the world in during the last 20 years. According to another research made by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2018 the number of rose fields within the country have tripled over the last seven years. The reason-the rise in the price per kilo of rose oil.
„Many people just started to shed all sorts of roses to make money. Not all of them were this specific “Damastsena” sort. The government has no authority to monitor and guarantee the quality, and it turned out that at one point that Bulgaria began to export poor quality rose oil.” said Nikolay Nenov, the first organoleptic expert in Bulgaria and long-time director of The National Laboratory “Bulgarian Rose”.
In order to produce larger quantity of rose oil, some of the manufacturers are even importing the product from other countries because is cheaper, explained Nenov.
“Then they are adding some different impurities and that’s how they gain a larger amount of the product. It’s not that hard, and there is no law prohibiting it in practice. In the future, we’ll need sanctions and they better be brutal.”, said Nenov.
Nenov points to a report by the National Customs Agency according to which Bulgaria has been importing rose oil over the last few years from countries like Iran and Turkey.
“I`ve seen almost everything in this business. As a biologist I can explain how they do it. The counterfeiting can be proved but unfortunately only by the customer, because there is no law which obligates manufacturers to prove the quality of their oil. I`ve seen colleagues who are using 10 kilos of pure rose oil to make a lot more by just adding some impurities from India because it is cheaper.“, complained the rose oil manufacturer Tanya Popova.
Many rose oil manufacturers complain that this lack of control leads to another problem. Agriculture ministry`s records show that only eight firms are certified to make Bulgarian rose oil, but still there is no law that prohibits other non-certified oil makers to sell their production by that label which is considered as a guarantee of quality. One of these eight firms is Tanya Popova`s.
“This is how those kind of adulterations are possible.”, explained Popova.
The Agriculture ministry says that a law that would introduce quality controls is being drafted as a response to the genuine rose oil makers problems.
“It`s because of these frequent signals and complaints about fake rose oil. We don’t want to lose our positions on the world market.” , said Anton Velichkov who is in charge of bio-production sector in the Ministry of Agriculture.
From the Ministry of Agriculture explained that they are working on another law too which will obligate every rose oil manufacturer to certify their firms. Until then “When” and “How” are the two most frequently asked questions in Tanya`s head.