rose: 51 posts

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.

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Why Bad Smells Are Important in Perfumery

One of the paradoxes of perfumery is that to create a good smell, you need a bit of funk. A strawberry accord won’t smell convincing without a sulphurous accent. Recreating a dewy white blossom requires the same substances that are present in horse sweat. There is even a space in every perfume lab devoted to materials with strong, reeking odors, and it’s appropriately called “the stinky room.” Next to the roses and vanillas in a perfumer’s palette, notes reminiscent of dirty hair, musty fur, burnt toast or decaying fruit have their place of honor–costus, musks, civet, pyrazines and many other pungent ingredients. They may be used in small quantities, but they’re important enhancers, giving vibrancy, texture and spice to an otherwise conventional fragrance.

Traditionally, the raunchy notes in classical perfumery were of animalic origin—musk, civet, and ambergris. Today they have been replaced by their synthetic analogs, but they play the same role, warming up a composition and giving it a lush character. Chanel No 5 wouldn’t be the marvel that it is without a cocktail of musks that lingers under the layer of champagne-like aldehydes, rose and jasmine. In Hermès’s Calèche, a whisper of sunwarmed skin keeps this refined blend from becoming icy and aloof. Even more unexpected is Cartier Déclaration, a citrus cologne with a shot of cumin, a spice with a distinctly sweaty odor. For a proper bombshell you could turn to Schiaparelli Shocking, which transforms musk, honey, and civet into a symphony of ripeness.

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5 Moods, 5 Roses

Rose is a classical note in a perfumer’s palette. It can be a natural type-rose, with rich honeyed facets, a citrusy blossom, or a musky bouquet. While some iconic fragrances like Guerlain Nahéma and Jean-Charles Brosseau Ombre Rose are rose-dominated, it often finds itself in a supporting role, which it performs beautifully. As I hope to demonstrate to you with my list below, rose is versatile and can suit a variety of moods and fragrance styles.

Although rose is most closely associated with feminine perfumery, I encourage men to disregards such labels. The truth is that citrus, metallic rose notes are already present in many masculine compositions, such as Amouage Lyric Man, Maison Francis Kurkdjian Lumiere Noire Pour Homme and Cartier Déclaration d’Un Soir. The darker the rose becomes, the more you can experiment with it. For instance, Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady smells devastatingly sexy on a man.

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The Olfactory Delights of Bulgaria’s Rose Valley

Located in the southern part of the Balkan mountain range, Rose Valley stretches across central Bulgaria and produces almost 50 per cent of the world’s rose essence. The mild climate and unique soil composition create a flower with a sumptuous and intense aroma of honey, lemon peel, gingerbread and raspberries. The most popular variety is rose damascena, and when the fields burst into bloom in May, the air becomes sweet and fragrant, as I witnessed when I was there earlier this year. I would pick a few flowers and bring them to my hotel in the evening, and the following day I would wake to a suave scent wafting through the room.

In my recent FT magazine article, The Olfactory Delights of Bulgaria’s Rose Valley, I describe five fragrances based around Bulgarian rose essence. I explain what makes this essence interesting and how perfumers use it as part of rose accords.

To read the full article, please click here.

And of course, please share your favorite rose perfumes. I know that we have quite a rose loving contingent here, and rediscovering old favorites is always a pleasure.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, Bulgaria, Kazanlyk.

Scent Diary : Bulgarian Roses

Bulgarian roses smell of honey, cinnamon, cloves, lemon peel, green leaves and a hint of raspberry. It’s the rose damascena variety, but the unique terroir of the Rose Valley gives it a particular fragrance. Imagine what a whole field of roses smells like!

Please jot down any interesting observations in this thread. You can write about your favorite books, interesting scents you’ve encountered. For those who would like to use the Scent Diary to sharpen their sense of smell, I will give a short explanation. As I wrote in How to Improve Your Sense of Smell, the best way to do so is to smell and to pay attention to what you’re smelling. It doesn’t matter what you smell. The most important thing is to notice scents around you. It’s even better if you write it down. So please share your scents and perfumes with us.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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Latest Comments

  • Klaas in Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume: 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… April 14, 2021 at 5:11pm

  • Sarah in Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume: 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… April 14, 2021 at 4:36pm

  • Silvermoon in Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume: 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”.… April 14, 2021 at 3:28pm

  • OnWingsofSaffron in Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume: 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… April 14, 2021 at 11:51am

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