Essays on Flavor and Fragrance: 21 posts

Articles on flavor, fragrance and gourmand explorations

Salty Licorice

The look on my face must have said it all, because the woman running a small Scandinavian store not far from Brussels burst out laughing. “Yes, it’s an acquired taste! But we, Swedes, are addicted to it,” she said, fetching a glass of water for me. The topic of conversation–and the reason I couldn’t stop myself from wincing–was a piece of jet black candy called salmiaklakrits in Swedish or salmiakki in Finnish, salty licorice. It’s a confectionery made with licorice extract and ammonium chloride that gives it an unusual saltiness–the more ammonium chloride is added, the saltier the candy tastes. Licorice is an acquired taste to begin with, but salmiakki is in a category of its own.

salmiak

Besides the Nordic countries, salty licorice is also enjoyed in the Netherlands and the north of Belgium and Germany. People who love it are a passionate bunch and active proselytizers. If a Dutch friend casually suggests you try something called Dubbelzout drop, beware that you’re about to make the acquaintance of an extra salty licorice. I guarantee, the memory of that drop will stay with you for a long while afterwards. After your friend has delighted enough in your suffering, she will then pop the stuff in her mouth, make audible signs of pleasure and give you a smug–“my taste buds are so superior”–smile.

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Gifts From The Silk Road

One of my favorite stores in Brussels isn’t a chocolate shop. It’s not even a fabulous perfume treasure trove called Senteurs d’Ailleurs. It’s a supermarket at Rue de l’Escadron 35 called FreshMed. Technically, it’s not even in Brussels proper, but in Etterbeek, one of the 19 communes that make up the metropolis. It’s a store offering a vast selection of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods, with a smattering of Baltic and Polish products.

incense-cat-burner

FreshMed isn’t a fancy store; it’s a place where the aesthetics are provided by the towering pyramids of fresh vegetables and fruits, not an overly creative interior design. I like this simple and unpretentious approach. Here you can find fresh tarragon and pomegranates, stock up on Greek retsina and Lebanese arak, and then load up your cart with homemade foods: tiny Syrian pies, Turkish-style pizza, hummus, tzaziki, olives and 10 kinds of feta. Then there are shelves of Iranian floral waters, Cretan dark honeys and Moroccan amber scented soaps. It’s a journey down the Silk Road within the space of a few supermarket aisles.

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Jenever Belgian Liquor : Juniper, Rose, Lavender

Museums where you can exercise your sense of smell are few and far between. As anyone who has tried to convince a gallery to add a fragrance exposition knows, it can be a difficult undertaking. “Not enough funding” is a common excuse. One is left treating the aisles of Sephora as the august halls of perfume education. Or so it seems at first, because besides museums featuring fragrance, there are numerous venues that feature scent. For instance, any museum dedicated to wine or spirits would have a smelling bar and an explanation of aromatics. That you can later taste the stars of the exhibit only adds to the appeal.

lavender2jenever2

During my research on the lavender farm in Limburg, I discovered that Hasselt, the province’s capital, has a jenever museum. Jenever, also known as genièvre, genever or peket, is an ancestor of gin, a local spirit made out of grain and flavored with juniper and other botanicals, and it has been made in the region since the 13th century. Wine and brandy distilled from grapes have traditionally been expensive, while the surfeit of corn brought from the New World made aqua vitae distillers eager to experiment. The result was a drink described as “banishing cares and making the heart courageous.”

That this 75 proof liquor has such an effect is easy enough to believe. Jenever might have started out as medicine, but instead of using sugar to mask the rough taste of the alcohol base, pharmacists chose a much more interesting approach by flavoring it with spices, herbs and flowers. Eventually, locally grown juniper started to dominate the composition, while jenever moved from the pharmacy shelf to the cafe.

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Chocolate, Violets, Bread : A Call for New Gourmands

My grandmother’s Easter bread is a lacy confection of butter and sugar. Glazed with chocolate and decorated with flowers, it looks like a Byzantine mosaic. Redolent of bitter cacao and violets, it doesn’t just smell good. I realize with a thrill that it smells like a complete perfume–the top note of violet, the heart of hazelnuts and wheat, and the lingering backdrop of musky chocolate. Take this idea, refine it into an accord–a combination of several perfume notes that becomes more than the sum of its parts–and voila, you can use it to create a new gourmand genre. Sounds fanciful, but this is how perfume is made.

easter breads1easter breads1a

On the face of it, it seems as if the gourmand genre has captured every dessert, from crème brûlée (Aquolina Pink Sugar) to cupcakes (Vera Wang Princess), from rice pudding (Tommy Hilfiger True Star) to raspberry macarons (Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire). You can have your chocolate with cinnamon (Pacifica Mexican Cocoa), with caramel (Thierry Mugler Angel), or with honey (Tom Ford Noir de Noir).

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Le Palais des Thes Jardin Tea Series

Le Palais des Thés has launched a collection of non-caffeinated teas based on fruit. Each blend includes pieces of dried fruit, herbs, and flowers.

jardin-fruitejardin-suspendu

Jardin Suspendu is fresh and acidic. It’s a blend of apple, orange & orange peel,  hibiscus flowers, rosehip peel, lemongrass, cornflower petals, sunflower petals, rose petals, mallow petals, and notes of mango and bergamot.

Jardin Tropical is sweet and tropical. It blends mango, pineapple, papaya and peach with rosehip peel, lemongrass, and cornflower petals.

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Latest Comments

  • Anna in Cherry Blossom Haiku: What a lovely post for the Spring, Victoria. Cherry blossoms and haiku. I love Basho but had not heard of Buson. It reminds me to buy an anthology. Winter gives… April 26, 2017 at 9:17pm

  • ClareObscure in Cherry Blossom Haiku: Hi Victoria. I hope you are making progress in your garden. This was a lovely post about the fleeting poignant loveliness of Spring blossoms. Here in England we are surrounded… April 26, 2017 at 7:44pm

  • Amy McLaughlin in What Does The Scent of Books Reveal?: My pleasure! April 26, 2017 at 4:43pm

  • Victoria in Cherry Blossom Haiku: Cherry leaves and twigs also have a wonderful taste of roasted almonds. My grandmother uses leaves for pickles and twigs for roasting meat. April 26, 2017 at 2:23pm

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