Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume

Every spring I make a Persian rhubarb sherbet by cooking sliced stems and sugar in water. Once the flavor and pink color infuse into the syrup, I filter the liquid and add rose essence. Enjoyed from tall crystal glasses, the sherbet has a voluptuous taste that calls to mind the warm light streaming through the stained glass windows of the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, a pink-tinted jewel of Shiraz.


Since perfumery has much in common with cuisine, rendering my sherbet into a fragrance accord with a similar ornate impression is not difficult. Rhubarb has a natural affinity with rose, violet and berries, because they are complementary notes (and raspberry, in a nesting doll twist, contains elements of both rose and violet, which makes it an especially felicitous partner.)  Jo Malone White Lilac and Rhubarb explores this combination by augmenting the floral layer of rhubarb with a cocktail of rose and lilac. It’s a bright and happy perfume, with a nod to retro glamour.

Rhubarb may seem like a modern note in the perfumer’s palette, but in fact, it has a classical pedigree. A subtle effect, of green crunch and mouthwatering tartness, is found in Miss Dior L’Originale and Carven Ma Griffe. Today perfumers have more ingredients with rhubarb inflections at their disposal, using tartness to temper the sugary notes currently in vogue. For a rhubarb dessert, I might select Yves Saint Laurent Baby Doll, a compote of rhubarb, grapefruit and musk, or Burberry Brit Red, a crème brûlée topped with candied jasmine petals and gingerbread.

Just as it gives an interesting twist to a gourmand, rhubarb also makes green and resinous notes shimmer. To achieve such an illusion, Olfactive Studio’s Flashback dilutes the fruit with vetiver and just enough apple for a hint of delicate sweetness. Aedes de Venustas Eau de Parfum is an even more striking composition–it tosses rhubarb slices with basil leaves and incense. The effect is neither liturgical nor gourmand, but as fresh and exhilarating as being caught in a spring rainstorm.

Another fragrance I like is Hermès’s Eau de Rhubarbe Écarlate, a creation by perfumer Christine Nagel. Nagel is well-known for her sultry compositions that wear like cashmere wraps, and with Eau de Rhubarbe Écarlate she demonstrates that it’s possible to make a cologne seductive. She pairs rhubarb with citrus and red berries, but then she adds a dollop of musk to make the drydown suave and tender. The result is similar to my sherbet—opulent, rich, and just as delicious.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

What are your favorite rhubarb fragrances? Also, if you cook with rhubarb, I’d love to hear what you make. 

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41 Comments

  • Anne: I love rhubarb in tarts and cakes. You can also simmer it with strawberries to eat with whipped cream. April 12, 2021 at 12:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: That sounds wonderful! April 13, 2021 at 6:18am Reply

  • Christine Funt: I love strawberry rhubarb pie. I also cook the rhubarb as a sauce and put it on shortcake or ice cream. April 12, 2021 at 12:43pm Reply

    • Victoria: I need to try rhubarb cooked this way. April 13, 2021 at 6:19am Reply

  • Helen Miskin: I love Hermes Rhubarb! April 12, 2021 at 2:09pm Reply

    • Phyllis: I love Hermes Rhubarbe Ecarlate too! April 12, 2021 at 3:36pm Reply

      • Victoria: We seem to have a fan club here! April 13, 2021 at 6:20am Reply

    • Victoria: Me too! April 13, 2021 at 6:19am Reply

    • emercycrite: Another vote for the Hermes! April 14, 2021 at 8:06am Reply

  • Heidi Czerwiec: I adore Aedes de Venustas’ signature, and wear it all spring & summer! Living in the Upper Midwest of the US, I grow rhubarb & put it in a lot — cakes, pies, jams, sorbet — I even have a spicy rhubarb-habanero BBQ sauce I make that’s fantastic with chicken or pork. April 12, 2021 at 3:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: Savory dishes with rhubarb work really well. There is a Persian stew that I always make in season, khorest-e rivas. It has lamb or veal, rhubarb and lots of herbs. April 13, 2021 at 6:20am Reply

      • OnWingsofSaffron: Ah, delicious! I cooked one batch of rhubarb with sugar, a bit of salt and vanilla as a compote. The second batch was blanched very shortly for a Persian-ish khoresh made with meatballs (I use turkey mince), a sprinkle of dried peppermint and obviously a dash of rose water. Together with buttery rice — heaven on a plate! April 14, 2021 at 11:51am Reply

        • Victoria: Turkey mince sounds like a great idea. I must try it the next time I buy rhubarb. April 19, 2021 at 2:44pm Reply

          • OnWingsofSaffron: In Germany it is forbidden by law to sell mincemeat from poultry! So I mince the turkey myself. I know that one can buy chicken mince in Belgium at the supermarket.
            I cooked this dish last Saturday and I added cubed sweet potatoe into the khoresht. The orange potatoe looked rather lovely, and the sweet flavour paired very well with the tart rhubarb. Will make again! April 19, 2021 at 3:19pm Reply

            • Victoria: I had no idea! Yes, here you can find minced meat from just about anything, but I don’t like the texture of commercial ground meat and I prefer to make it myself, either using a grinder or by hand.
              Rhubarb and sweet potatoes do sound excellent together. April 20, 2021 at 2:39am Reply

    • Charlotte: Hi Victoria, I made a rhubarb-rose sherbet influenced by one of your posts last summer, and it was delicious! When I tried it a second time I must have added too much rose water though, because it tasted soapy rather than refreshing.

      Rhubarb is one of my favourite seasonal ingredients! I love making Anna Jones’ summer rhubarb bars with strawberries, and recently made Thomasina Miers’ rhubarb, star anise and hazelnut galette, which was delicious.

      @Heidi Czerwiec I’d love to try rhubarb in a savoury dish; do you have any vegetarian suggestions for pairing your BBQ sauce?

      The Hermes is the only one of these fragrances I’ve tried; I remember it being lovely and quite unusual. Would like to try more fragrances containing rhubarb. April 13, 2021 at 6:20am Reply

      • Victoria: Yes, you have to dose rosewater correctly, or else it dominates.

        Thank you for the recommendations. They all sound delicious. April 13, 2021 at 6:23am Reply

        • Charlotte: My pleasure, I hope you try them! April 13, 2021 at 5:59pm Reply

      • Heidi: Hi Charlotte — I imagine it would be good with grilled or baked tofu, and we’ve also used it with tempeh to make a riff on sliced BBQ sandwiches. I haven’t tried it with jackfruit, though. April 13, 2021 at 12:53pm Reply

        • Charlotte: Thanks Heidi, I love the idea of rhubarb sandwich spread! Will give this a try. April 13, 2021 at 5:58pm Reply

  • rickyrebarco: I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything with rhubarb. I like the scent in perfume, though. I need to try Eau de Rhubarb Escalante. April 12, 2021 at 3:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: For me, that’s one of the best perfumes with rhubarb. April 13, 2021 at 6:20am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: I once bought a small bottle of Sherbet Rhubarb by Comme des Garçons in a museum shop in Kanazawa. It was quite lovely. I think I might try to find another bottle! April 12, 2021 at 4:19pm Reply

  • Amalia: I thought I was the only one who loves Rhubarbe Écarlate! 😊 April 12, 2021 at 4:37pm Reply

    • Victoria: Many of us like it, it seems! April 13, 2021 at 6:21am Reply

  • Hilde: I am not a sweet tooth, and therefore I prefer desserts which have some acidity. I have two favourite desserts, of which one is indeed with rhubarb: a tart made with a bottom of shortcrust pastry filled with unpeeled rhubarb (to save more taste and the red colour), covered with some tablespoons of crystalized sugar and with 125 ml of cream that is mixed with 2 or 3 eggs and some vanilla sugar. The pre-preparation only takes 15 minutes and it is delicious.
    My other favourite dessert is vanilla ice cream poured over with a mix of warmed up red and/or black berries without any additional sugar. I already get mouth watering thinking of it.
    And I think that a triangle flap of puff pastry filled with rhubarb jam should be delicious to.

    It is strange that I dislike perfumes in which I smell red berries and that on the other hand I can’t stop eating red and black berries when the season is there. They are the best eating them directly from the bush. Then I feel like a child. April 14, 2021 at 4:42am Reply

    • Victoria: The cream-rhubarb tart sounds wonderful. I’m definitely going to make it. I also find it a pity that most recipes peel rhubarb and then smother it with so much sugar that you stop tasting anything. Your idea is much more appealing to me. April 14, 2021 at 7:32am Reply

  • emercycrite: “No, I don’t want dacquoise. I want tortes filled with warm rhubarb compote.”
    – Miranda Priestly April 14, 2021 at 8:09am Reply

  • Silvermoon: When I visited relatives in Germany as a child, I remember being served rhubarb compotes or similar for dessert. Always liked it, but considered it oddly sour for a “dessert”. I have never tried any rhubarb notes in perfume, so immediately set out to try the Jo Malone White Lilac and Rhubarb that Victoria mentions above. Shops opened on Monday in the UK after almost five months of lockdown (brief exception in December when in some areas there wasn’t full lockdown). So I decided to stop by the JM in York. Sadly, I learnt that this perfume has been discontinued/ is unavailable. However, the lady in the shop had a last tester candle with that perfume, and kindly scraped some wax off to let me smell it. I was highly impressed.. it smelled lovely and as bright and happy as Victoria says. April 14, 2021 at 3:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, no! It was such a good perfume. The candle was also great. April 19, 2021 at 2:44pm Reply

  • Sarah: Love the Hermes parfum. Bought it in Montreal.
    It is nice je of my favorite during the summer.
    Caramelized rhubarb pie is a delight. Unfortunately I am the only one eating so I do not bake it too often. I will try the Jo Malone perfume. April 14, 2021 at 4:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: How do you make your caramelized rhubarb pie? April 19, 2021 at 2:45pm Reply

  • Klaas: We grew rhubarb in our garden when I was a kid. We used to eat the stems, raw, dipped in sugar. It was a real experience, the extreme sourness of the rhubarb paired with the crunchy sweetness of the sugar cristals. I don’t think wel really liked it, yet we would dare eachother to take ever bigger bites and laugh ourselves silly…..oh, the 1970’s!

    I cook a rhubarb compote with clove, cardemom pods and vanilla. Very nice! You can also add sweet white wine for even more effect!

    And another big Hermes fan here! I like all their colognes; besides the Rhubarbe I think the Neroli, Gentiane and Narcisse are excellent!

    Speaking of Hermes, Rose Ikebana pairs rose with rhubarb in a wonderful way! April 14, 2021 at 5:11pm Reply

    • Victoria: Spice marry so well with rhubarb, don’t they! I also like rhubarb and star anise. April 19, 2021 at 2:45pm Reply

      • Klaas: Yes, and Rhinda suggests nutmeg as well! I will try next time! April 19, 2021 at 5:31pm Reply

  • Rhinda: Loved this article as rhubarb has been a food companion since I was a tot.
    Rhubarb Pie is my most requested treat. I have only made the pie filling this one special way with rhubarb, sugar, flour, a small amount of pouring cream and a little sprinkle of nutmeg. The quality of the rhubarb changes up the amount of ingredients—I add more flour to thicken if the stalks are heavy.
    Big Tip: always have a baking sheet under a rhubarb pie. It is a terrible mess to clean up.
    I make jam with some lime zest and a squeeze of the juice.
    Lastly, I love candied rhubarb strips!
    Now to research the perfumes. April 16, 2021 at 9:22am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for sharing your tips–and for mentioning nutmeg with rhubarb. I really would like to try that. April 19, 2021 at 2:46pm Reply

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