Food & Fragrance: 159 posts

Articles about the gourmand pleasures, flavorful cooking, scent and taste experiments and tested recipe ideas

Elderflower Cordial

Sugar to flavors is like amber to butterflies. It captures even the most delicate of nuances of flowers like roses, violets or acacia. I don’t have a particularly strong sweet tooth, and yet you can tell by the number of articles I’ve written about making candied flowers and searching for Persian sugared jasmine or Provencal glazed mimosa, how much this topic fascinates me.  Now that the elderflowers are in bloom, I want to capture the effervescent ballet of their aromas in something. A candy. A jam. Or perhaps, a cordial.

Elderflower cordial is a popular drink in Belgium, where it’s sold diluted as a soft drink, but growing up in Ukraine, I’ve never associated elderblossoms with anything but tisane. My great-grandmother occasionally used the berries to make cough syrups, but I don’t remember them tasting appealing. I liked their intense violet color and once tried to use them as fountain pen ink. That didn’t go over well. The aroma of elderblossoms in early summer, however, was one of my vivid childhood memories.

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Roses and Honey

Poltava, in central Ukraine, is famous for its honey. Every year the city and its environs host fairs celebrating honey in all its forms, and whenever I visit my grandmother, who is a Poltava native, I enjoy this sweet treat in gingerbreads, cakes, drinks and even savory dishes. One of the most beloved local pairings is first-of-the-season honey drizzled over cucumbers.

On a recent visit, I discovered yet another way to eat honey – infused with roses. It was heaven. So, for my recent FT column, The Fragrance of Honey and Roses, I’ve decided to recreate this combination and to find fragrances that are build around the rose-honey accord.

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Tonka Bean, Chocolate Salt and Three Perfumes

Several years ago, a friend gave me a jar of chocolate and tonka salt from a Viennese outfit called Zum Schwarzen Kameel. It’s a delicatessen and a culinary complex famous for its unique interpretation of classical Austrian specialties. The salt was a mix of coarse salt crystals, black pepper, pieces of cacao beans and tonka. Only a small quantity of the latter was present, but its cherry-almond scent made the salt a heady, fragrant mixture. I’ve used it on grilled meat and fish, but it shone best on winter vegetables like cabbage, turnips, swedes, potatoes, and parsnips. I’ve since made my own version, using equal amounts of black pepper and cacao beans and a smidgen of tonka shavings for perfume. The recipe is at the end of the article.

The reason I was stingy with tonka bean in my blend is because it’s a potent ingredient.  The scent of toasted almonds, amarena cherries, sun-warmed hay and vanilla custard lingers well, and tonka bean’s is one of the most luscious and seductive aromas in a perfumer’s palette. It was also responsible for a revolution in modern perfumery.

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Persian Flower Delights

In time for Nowruz, which falls on March 20 or 21 in 2019, depending on where in the world you are, I wanted to share with you my favorite Persian floral delights. Flowers don’t only bloom in Persian gardens and adorn Qajar art and textiles, they’re also used in cuisine. Rosewater adds a bright note to savory and sweet dishes. Willow flowers flavor sugar and candy. Orange blossom accents tea blends. As good as flowers smell, their flavors are equally beautiful.

So I took a walk through my local Iranian store and came home with a whole treasure trove of floral delicacies.

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Lateral Cooking by Niki Segnit : Unlocking the Secrets of Flavors

Why does pork pair well with peaches? Why does jasmine uplift the aroma of green tea? And why does chocolate and coffee marry so well together? Great cooking is based on an understanding of flavors and the way in which different ingredients can pair together.  Yet, it’s a skill that can seem elusive, especially to those who are new to cooking.  While there are numerous resources with excellent recipes, few of them teach novices how to approach flavors and techniques. This is an especially unfortunate oversight since one of the easiest ways to improve one’s cooking—and to enjoy the process more–is to cook using one’s nose and palate to their fullest.

This is a subject the food writer Niki Segnit explored  in her 2010 book The Flavour Thesaurus. Covering a wide range of ingredients, from almonds to washed rind cheeses, the author deftly intertwines food science and her own experience to unlock the mystery of aromas and tastes. The book suggests hundreds of combinations and explains why, for instance, coriander and blueberry pair well together. Coriander contains up to 85% linalool, a compound with a bright, floral-citrusy fragrance. The same molecule is responsible for the aroma of blueberry, and adding a bit of ground coriander to a blueberry dessert magnifies the flavors.

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Latest Comments

  • Silvermoon in Scent of Cherries: Cherry (fruit) is something I would never think to choose in a perfume. Cherry (flower) is what comes to mind. Amazed to read that Lolita Lempiska is supposed to have… June 15, 2019 at 12:52pm

  • OnWingsofSaffron in Scent of Cherries: It’s not really the sweetness: it’s the Cherry Coke cuteness; a naive gaudiness; something giggling— June 15, 2019 at 9:44am

  • Robin Charles in Scent of Cherries: Me a culpa, I did not realize. Please let me correct my mistake: ladies and gentlemen. Thank you Victoria June 15, 2019 at 8:10am

  • Victoria in Scent of Cherries: Lolita Lempicka is always a big favorite. I also like the bottle. June 15, 2019 at 8:10am

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