Lavender and its products have excellent flavor properties. However, most studies focus on the aroma profiles of lavender essential oil (LEO). The volatiles in lavender extracts (LEs), either in volatile compositions or their odor characteristics, have rarely been reported. In this study, the odor characteristics of LEs and LEO were comprehensively investigated by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), coupled with sensory evaluation and principal chemical analysis (PCA). In addition, the extraction conditions of lavender extracts from inflorescences of Lavandula angustifolia Mill. were optimized. Under the optimal conditions of extraction, twice with 95% edible ethanol as the solvent, the LEs tended to contain the higher intensity of characteristic floral, herbal and clove-like odors as well as higher scores of overall assessment and higher amounts of linalool, linalool oxides I and II, linalyl acetate, lavandulyl acetate and total volatiles than LEO. PCA analysis showed that there were significant differences on the odor characteristics between LEO and LEs. The LEO, which was produced by steam distillation with a yield of 2.21%, had the lower intensity of floral, clove-like, medicine-like, pine-like and hay notes, a lower score of overall assessment and lower levels of linalool oxides I and II, linalyl acetate, lavandulyl acetate and total volatiles compared with LEs, whereas the relative contents of linalool and camphor in LEO were significantly higher than that in LEs. Furthermore, the earthy, green and watery odors were only found in LEO. Concerning the odor characteristics and volatile compositions, the LEs had better odor properties than LEO. These results provided a theoretical basis for the industrial preparation of lavender-related products.
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