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Journal of Chromatography & Separation Techniques
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Determining Odor-Active Compounds in a Commercial Sample of Cinnamomum cassia Essential Oil Using GC-MS and GC-O

Valentina Bongiovanni1*, Maria Laura Colombo2, Andrea Cavallero1 and Daniela Talarico1

1Kerry Ingredients and Flavors, Via Capitani di Mozzo 12/16, 24030, Mozzo, BG, Italy

2Department of Science and Pharmaceutical Technology, University of Turin, Via P. Jury 9, 10125 Turin, Italy

*Corresponding Author:
Valentina Bongiovanni
Kerry Ingredients and Flavors
Via Capitani di Mozzo 12/16
24030, Mozzo, BG, Italy
Tel: +393391904250
E-mail: [email protected]

Received date: December 28, 2017; Accepted date: January 10, 2017; Published date: January 14, 2017

Citation: Bongiovanni V, Colombo ML, Cavallero A, Talarico D (2017) Determining Odor-Active Compounds in a Commercial Sample of Cinnamomum cassia Essential Oil Using GC-MS and GC-O. J Chromatogr Sep Tech 8:347. doi:10.4172/2157-7064.1000347

Copyright: © 2017 Bongiovanni V, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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The volatiles of a commercial sample of Cinnamomum cassia (Nees and T. Nees) J. Presl. essential oil were analyzed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). The identification of the components was confirmed by Kovats retention index and their quantities were established using internal standard. These analyses had led to the identification of 72 chemicals and quantification of 41 of them. The majority of volatiles identified belongs to oxygenated compounds (e.g., aldehydes) while non oxygenated terpenes represent about 18% of the oil. The odor quality of cassia essential oil was assessed by Gas Chromatography-Olfactometry (GC-O). Among the 26 components identified with GC-O, AEDA (Aroma Extract Dilution Analysis) has allowed to establish a number of components with high dilution factor (strongly odorous) such as cinnamaldehyde, 3-phenylpropanal, guaiacol and 2-phenylethanol.


Cinnamon cassia; GC-O; AEDA; Essential oil


GC: Gas Chromatography; MS: Mass spectrometry; O: Olfactometry; AEDA: Aroma Extract Dilution Analysis; EO: Essential Oil; F.I.D./FID: Flame Ionization Detector; FD: Flavor Dilution (factor); VCF: Volatile Compounds in Food; FEMA: Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (ingredients generally recognized as safe under conditions of intended use as flavors from the FEMA expert panel are listed); RI: Retention Index.


Cinnamomum cassia (Nees and T. Nees) J. Presl, Lauracee family, is one of the oldest known spices. The volatile oil from leaf and bark and the oleoresin from bark are used in soaps, perfumes, spice essences, food and beverages. In traditional medicine it is widely used to treat dyspepsia, gastritis, blood circulation disturbance and inflammatory diseases [1]. The essential oil (EO) obtained from cassia is widely used in cosmetics and foods especially for its antioxidant, antifungal and antibacterial properties [2,3]. Beside its use in fragrances, cassia is used as a flavoring agent in foods for its spicy, sweet and warm aromatic notes both in savory (ham and meat) and sweet food (e.g., beverages such as cola), although with some limits provided by law (Regulation EC N°1334/2008).

The need of analytical methods for quality assessment is directly related to the economic importance of cassia and his derivatives as raw materials in the food industry. This point is crucial if cassia end-use is to make flavors.

In this study a commercial-grade cassia essential oil was analyzed with GC-MS and GC-O was used to investigate the olfactory profile [4]. In literature, several sample of different origin and grade of Cassia EO, from laboratory scale to commercial, have been screened with significant variability on reported results [5]. Moreover, quantitative analyses of constituents in cassia oil are not always available as GC percentages are more often reported.

Literature papers tend agree on cassia oil major component being cinnamic aldehyde, ranging from 50% to 93%, o-methoxy cinnamaldehyde (0.1-25.4%), cinnamyl acetate (0.3-7.6%), benzaldehyde (0.3-2.9%) [5,6]. In literature, the number of compounds identified with GC-olfactometric analysis in food product usually varies with the nature of the raw material.

Literature data [7] for spices such as black pepper shows that important odorants are about 14, mainly terpenes and oxygenated compounds. For some spices, the odor is well represented by that of the main component of the volatile fraction. An example is cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum, C. aromaticum, C. burmanii) whose odor is mainly characterized by the high content in cinnamic aldehyde [7].

Generally the concentration of cinnamic aldehyde determines the flavor quality of cassia too, low levels being known to represent material of low quality [8,9] for these reasons, other aromatic compounds in the oil have not been examined in depth so there is a lack of odor profile characterization of cassia oil in literature.

Despite the considerable amount of cinnamic aldehyde, cassia oil have a more complex odor profile with spicy, warm and sweet notes with a woody and earthy background.

Gas chromatography-olfactometry (GC-O) can help achieve this goal since GC-O allows to determinate the contribution of single constituents to the overall flavor of a product. GC-O enables the assessment of odor-active components in complex mixtures, through the specific correlation with the chromatographic peaks of interest; this is possible because two detectors, one of them being the human olfactory system, perceive the eluted substances simultaneously.

Different GC-O methods are available such as dilution, time intensity, detection frequency and posterior intensity [10,11]. Dilutions methods are the most used methods and they are based on successive dilutions of an aroma extract. AEDA-Aroma Extraction Dilution Analysis-is one of the most used GC-O methods because it permits to identify the most important aroma compounds [12,13].

In AEDA the odorants are separated by gas chromatography on a capillary column (Figure 1). To determine the retention times of the aroma substances, the carrier gas stream, after leaving the capillary column, goes to sniffing port for detection by panelist (GC-O). The sensory assessment of a single GC run is not very meaningful because the perception of aroma substances in the carrier gas stream depends on limited quantities, e.g., the degree of concentration of the volatile fraction, and the amount of sample separated by gas chromatography [7]. These limitations are overcame by the stepwise dilution of the volatile fraction with solvent (Figure 2), followed by the gas chromatographic/olfactometric analysis of each dilution. The dilution process is repeated until no more aroma substance can be detected by the panelist.


Figure 1: AEDA aromagram of Cinnamomum cassia EO. All the molecules perceived during AEDA session versus LogFD. Higher LogFD value is due to an odorant perception until high dilution level.


Figure 2: Olfactogram of first dilution of Cinnamon cassia obtained by Panelist1: retention time (X Axis) versus signal from GC-O joystick. When the panelist push the joystick, the instrument records a 100 signal that lasts until the panelist release the joystick.

Our GC-O equipment splits the flux into sniffing port (so human nose as detector) and analytical detector F.I.D. In order to get a precise identification of the peaks, a GC-MS analysis of the EO was run as well. GC-MS has been proven to be a powerful and suitable tool for the determination of volatile compounds because of its high separation efficiency and sensitive detection [14]. In order to avoid errors due to peaks overlapping, an equipment with double column was used.

Materials and Methods

Essential oil and reagents

A commercial grade cassia (Cinnamomum cassia (Nees and T.Nees) J. Presl.) essential oil obtained by steam distillation from cassia bark, leaves and twigs was used for all tests. Ethyl alcohol (96°, food grade) was used in the experiments.

Analysis of volatile composition

The identification of volatile aroma compound was performed on a gas-chromatograph Thermo Trace coupled with a Thermo ISQ massspectrometer. The GC-MS system was equipped with a DB1 (30 m, 0.25 mm i.d., 0.25 μm film thickness) capillary column (Agilent JandW). The starting temperature of the column was 50°C, which was held for 3 min, then increased 5°C/min to 280°C, where was held for 10 min. The constant column flow was 1,5 ml/min, using helium as carrier gas, the injector was in split mode at 280°C. Mass spectrometer parameters were as follow: ionization mode EI at 70 eV, source temperature 250°C, scan range m/z 33 to 350, scan mass 1 s. The components were identified by comparing their spectra with those present in the Wiley and NIST spectra collection and in an authentic chemicals spectra library.

The mass spectra identifications were confirmed using Kovats Indices (n-alkanes) on DB1 and DB1701 columns (Figure 3). To calculate the Kovats Indices a GC analysis was performed using an Agilent 5890 gas-chromatograph equipped with an auto sampler. The two capillary columns (Agilent JandW) DB1 and DB1701 (30 m, 0.25 mm i.d., 0.25 μm film thickness) were assembled on the same injector. Helium (flow 1.5 ml/min) was used as carrier gas, the injector was in split mode (ratio 1:50) and two F.I.D. detector were used. The injector and detectors temperatures were 280°C and 285°C respectively. The column temperature was initially maintained at 50°C for 3 min before increasing to 280°C at a rate of 5°C/min and held for 10 min.


Figure 3: Chromatogram (FID) Cinnamon cassia essential oil (FID obtained by elution from column DB1).

The Kovats Indices were compared to those of authentic chemicals elute in the same conditions. For quantitative analysis, the response factor relative to the internal standard (benzyl benzoate) was previously determined and stored in an inland library for each molecule identified. The choice of benzyl benzoate as internal standard has been made after a preliminary evaluation confirmed negligible quantities of this component in our sample. The percentage of every component was then calculated using the response factors.

Response factor (K) is calculated (for each molecule, on both capillary column) using the following:

K=W(x) × A(IS)/W(IS) × A(x)

Where: W(x)=weight (g) of molecule “x”; W(IS)=weight (g) of internal standard (Benzyl benzoate); A (IS)=Peak area of internal standard; A (x)=peak area of molecule “x”.

GC-O analysis

Cassia essential oil was analyzed with GC-O using an Agilent 5890 gas chromatograph equipped with DB-1 (30 m, 0.25 mm i.d., 0.25 μm film thickness) capillary column (Agilent J and W).

Chromatographic conditions were 50°C held for 3 min, 5°C/min to 220°C, 15°C/min to 280°C held for 10 min. The first temperature ramp was the same used for the determination of Kovats indices. Helium was used as carrier gas (flux 1.5 ml/min). The injector was in splitless mode, column flow was divided (70:30) by a splitter between the sniffing port and a flame ionization detector (F.I.D.).

A tailor-made software (Simplicius® from ABREG) was used to allow the recording of the odor intensity from the mechanical input of the panelists and to store the recorded signals that were further transformed into FD values or Log(FD).

GC-O analysis was performed using aroma extraction dilution analysis (AEDA) method. In order to find the most important odoractive compounds, which have the lowest odor thresholds, the amount of sample was reduced by ten dilution (w/v) of essential oil in ethyl alcohol (96°, food grade) factor dilution was 3. The sniffing started from the third dilution (1:27) due to peak overlapping (e.g., cinnamic aldehyde) and to overall too strong smell intensity of main eluting peak. According to AEDA method, samples were evaluated by the panelists in increasing dilution order and the impact of an odor-active component was measured as the last dilution value (FD).

The sniffing of cassia essential oil was carried-out by four trained assessors (1 male and 3 female, age 25-50 years), not smokers and without anosmia [15].


In total 72 components were identified through GC-MS analysis and confirmed by Kovats indices. Out of them 41 were quantified using internal standard and response factor while 31 were found in traces (<0.01%).

The majority of volatiles identified belongs to oxygenated compounds (e.g., aldehydes) while non oxygenated terpenes represent about 18% of the oil. In the analyzed cassia oil sample, cinnamic aldehyde is confirmed as the major component (about 78.4%), followed by o-methoxy cinnamaldehyde (7.40%), cinnamyl acetate (1.70%) and benzaldehyde (1.13%) (Table 1).

Compound FEMA Kovats RI DB1a Kovats RI DB1701a KovatsRI DB1b Kovats RI DB1701b Quantitative data (%)
Ethanol 2419 500 554 513 550 0.02
Hexanal 2557 777 883 773 878 Traces
Styrene 3233 876 960 875 963 0.08
Benzaldehyde 2127 930 1085 927 1080 1.11
a-Pinene 2902 933 951 933 949 0.07
Camphene 2229 946 972 946 970 0.06c
Phenol 3223 964 1220 960 1218 Traces
6-Methyl-5-hepten-2-one 2707 966 1085 966 1084 0.03
b-Pinene 2903 972 1001 969 997 0.02
Benzofuran - 974 - - - Traces
(E,E)-2,4-Heptadienal 3164 977 1144 980 1144 Traces
2-Pentylfuran 3317 980 1034 980 1034 Traces
Octanal 2797 981 1090 981 1084 Traces
a-Phellandrene 2856 994 1033 994 1033 Traces
Benzyl alcohol 2137 1003 1207 1001 1202 0.02
2-Phenylacetaldehyde 2874 1004 1185 1004 1184 Traces
Salicylaldehyde 3004 1009 1171 1009 1176 0.41
p-Cymene 2356 1012 1075 1009 1072 0.03
Eucalyptol 2465 1019 1077 1016 1072 0.01
Limonene 2633 1022 1058 1020 1057 0.02
b-Ocimene 3539 1033 1085 1029 1085 Traces
Acetophenone 2009 1038 1200 1034 1203 0.05
m-Tolualdehyde 3068 1038 - 1038 - Traces
g-Terpinene 3559 1052 1085 1050 1083 Traces
Octanol 2800 1057 1183 1057 1184 Traces
Guaiacol 2532 1061 1236 1061 1231 0.04
Methyl benzoate 2683 1070 1204 1069 1204 Traces
a,p-Dimethylstyene 3144 1074 1156 1073 1153 Traces
Terpinolene 3046 1078 1119 1079 1116 Traces
6-Methyl-3,5-heptadien-2- one 3363 1078 1238 1079 1238 Traces
2-Phenylethanol 2858 1084 1280 1084 1275 0.86
Fenchol 2480 1098 1227 1098 1227 Traces
Unknown - 1104 - - - 0.01c
Unknown - 1108 - - - 0.04c
Veratrole 3799 1110 1271 1111 1267 Traces
Camphor 2230 1115 1271 1115 1267 Traces
3-Phenylprop nal 2887 1125 1314 1125 1311 0.62
Pinocarvone - 1138 - 1136 - Traces
2-Phenylethyl formate 2864 1145 1302 1145 1302 Traces
Unknown - 1148 - - - 0.06c
Borneol 2157 1149 1290 1147 1283 0.11
p-Methylacetophenone 2677 1151 1324 1155 1324 Traces
p-Mentha-1,8-dien-4-ol - 1162 - 1155 - Traces
Terpinen-4-ol 2248 1164 1271 1160 1273 0.02
Estragole 2411 1169 1302 1172 1291 0.03
Methyl salicylate 2745 1169 1302 1166 1302 0.06
a-Terpineol 3045 1173 1290 1170 1293 0.03
(Z)-Cinnamaldehyde 2286 1181 1377 1181 1369 0.31
Decanal 2362 1183 1291 1183 1291 Traces
3-Phenylpropanol 2885 1199 1396 1197 1395 0.05
Anisaldehyde 2670 1203 1415 1210 1427 0.86
Carvone 2249 1214 1373 1214 1377 0.02
(E)-Cinnamaldehyde 2286 1238 1462 1228 1463 78.20
o-Methoxyacetophenone 4163 1263 - 1263 - Traces
Anethole 2086 1266 1396 1260 1393 0.05
Vitispirane - 1264 - 1267 - Traces
Cinnamic alcohol 2294 1275 1505 1270 1506 0.15
(E,E)-2,4-Decadienal 3135 1291 1428 1291 1430 0.01
Methylo-methoxybenzoate 2717 1307 1502 1306 1502 Traces
3-Phenylpropionic acid 2889 1307 1581 1312 1581 0.11
Cinnamyl formate 2299 1319 1495 1319 1499 0.01
Eugenol 2467 1331 1512 1326 1506 0.11
Unknown - 1335 - - - 0.22c
Methyl cinnamate 2698 1352 1514 1348 1519 Traces
a-Copaene - 1377 1405 1377 1404 0.33c
Coumarin 2381 1388 1692 1388 1686 0.88
b-Elemene - 1392 1435 1385 1436 Traces
Cinnamic acid 2288 1405 1702 1405 1697 0.74
Cinnamyl acetate 2293 1411 1593 1405 1586 1.70
a-Bergamotene   1434 1463 1434 1461 Traces
a-Curcumene   1465 1532 1464 1530 Traces
o-Methoxycinnamaldehyde 3181 1487 1756 1492 1752 7.40

Table 1: Identifications and quantitative data of commercial sample of Cinnamon Cassia essential oil.

Different publications on volatiles components of cassia oil have also been reviewed by VCF [16]; 69 components have been listed, with only 25% have been associated with a content range. In our analyses, we are able to quantify as much as 55% of the overall molecules including an high numbers of components usually found in traces such as eucalyptol (0.01%), 3- phenylpropanol (0.01%), 2,4-decadienal (0.01%), cinnamyl formate (0.01%).

Due to safety concerns related to coumarine presence in flavor and fragrance, it was important to detect its content in cassia oil. In our sample, coumarine content reached 0.88%, consistent with the previously reported 0-12.2% [5]. Phenylacetaldehyde was not found in quantitative data in literature but in our sample it was present in small quantity (0.01%); this compound has a relevant odor impression since it was been perceived for many dilution in GC-O analysis. The odor active components determined in our cassia oil sample were 26. The odorants were identified by comparing their mass spectra, retention index, Kovats index and odor description with those of authentic standards.

The data in Table 2 show that most intense odor active compounds were aldehydes: 3- phenylpropanal and cinnamic aldehyde were perceived until last dilution. Some compounds present in smaller quantity had stronger olfactory impression (e.g., guaiacol) than other compounds present in higher quantities (e.g., o-methoxy cinnamaldehyde, benzaldehyde). The odor quality was obtained by olfactory evaluation and description perceived during GC-O session. Among perceived odorants there were some compounds that have a typical spicy connotation: cinnamic aldehyde, methoxy cinnamic aldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, eugenol and cinnamyl alcohol.

Molecule Odor description Mean dilution Log FD
Styrene Resinous, balsamic, pungent, plastic, ethereal 1.75 2.86
Benzaldehyde Almonds, sweet cherry 5 9.07
6-Methyl-5-hepten-2-one Oily, green, herbaceous 5 9.07
Octanal Oily, fruity, sweet, citrus 3.5 6.20
2-Phenylacetaldehyde Floral, hyacinth, rose, honey 5.75 10.50
Salicylaldehyde Pungent, spicy, phenolic, almond, medicinal 3.75 6.68
Eucalyptol Strong camphor, fresh 1.5 2.39
Limonene Fresh, sweet, orange 1.5 2.39
Acetophenone Sweet, pungent, cherry, sour 5.5 10.02
Guaiacol Strong, sweet, smoky, vanilla, phenolic, medicinal 8.75 16.22
2-Phenylethanol Flowers, rose 8 14.79
3-Phenylpropanal Green, floral, hyacinth, balsamic, melon 9.75 18.13
Terpinen-4-ol Fresh, green, lemon, fresh, spicy and musky with woody notes 2.75 4.77
Methyl salicylate Warm, sweet, evergreen 2.5 4.29
Estragole Sweet, herbaceous, anise-fennel, basil, licorice 3.5 6.20
(Z)-Cinnamaldehyde Spicy, cinnamon, cassia, sweet, warm 4.25 7.63
Decanal Strong, pungent, sweet, waxy, orange peel 2.5 4.29
(E)-Cinnamaldehyde Spicy, cinnamon, cassia, sweet, warm 9.5 17.65
o-Methoxyacetophenone Sweet, phenolic, evergreen, chemistry, medicine, musky, earthy 2.5 4.29
Cinnamyl alcohol Balsamic, sweet with floral notes and spicy 3.75 6.68
Methyl-o-methoxybenzoate Herbaceous, musk, anis, fruity, winey 4.25 7.63
Cinnamyl formate Balsamic, herbaceous, fruity, apple, slightly bitter 3.75 6.68
Eugenol Strong, spicy, dry, pungent, smoky, clove 1.25 1.91
Coumarin Sweet, dried fruit, hay, tobacco 2.75 4.77
Cinnamyl acetate Sweet, balsamic, floral, spicy 6 10.97
o-Methoxy cinnamaldehyde Sweet, warm, spicy, cassia 4.5 8.11

Table 2: AEDA results. Mean dilution indicates the last dilution until the molecule had been identified. Odor description indicates the odor perception of panelist.

The identification of a large number of odorants, some of which found in trace and others such as cinnamaldehyde and methoxy cinnamaldehyde that made up to approximately 90% of the oil, confirm AEDA as a powerful technique to analyze the olfactory profile of complex mixtures [17-19].


The author would thank the entire panel group that took part to the sniffing sessions. The author would thank Kerry Ingredients and Flavors that supported the study with materials and experts.


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