Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cooking with Essential Oils: Perfuming Food with Tuberose and Dill

One of the greatest joys of being a perfume writer and an amateur cook is combining the appreciation of scents into fields that surpass their own boundaries and leep into peripheral matter. Whenever I pick up a fresh cucumber at the open market for my preparation of tzatziki dip I lean to smell its smooth peel, often asking the seller to cut one in half in front of my very eyes so I can judge by smell; and nary does a day of food shopping goes by that I am not reminded by the aromata in front of me of ingredients in fine fragrance. The same principle applies when picking up flowers to adorn my house at the florist's, the hothouse or just while trailblaizing in the countryside; succumbing to the grace of the scent bouquet that even the simplest blossom exhibits is akin to discovering the complexity of the cosmos.

Imagine my elation when I was asked by a perfumer who has been using, procuring and even harvesting her own aromatic essences for long to test her newly-launched essences for food. For a long time I thought I was the only one to use orange blossom hydrosol for my Christmas cookies, yuzu essence to aromatize my sponge cake and peppermint drops into the big vat of Mojito cocktail served on the verandahs when entertaining in the summertime. Apparently, I was not and now many more will find it easier still.

Anya McCoy who just launched this line assures us that the essential oils used are of the highest quality and tested for tolerance in use in food: "I've been using natural essential oils and absolutes to perfume my food and drinks since 1978. I have been sourcing quality oils since 1970, so please know that the oils I offer for the Anya's Garden food and drink line are of the highest quality. These are the same aromatic oils that I use in my perfumes. [...]These oils and absolutes are GRAS - Generally Recognized as Safe by the USDA. They may also be used for creating perfumes.".

In what is thought of as "oils" she also has several things to divulge: "Essential oils are made by steam- or hydrodiffusion of plant materials, in a process called 'distillation'. The "oils" aren't necessarily oils as we think of them, meaning the fixed oils. They're often much more ethereal than that, and many are lighter than water, and will float on water. However, water can also be used to disperse them, especially when the tiny amount you'll be using is placed in water. You can experiment with seltzer water, some simple syrup and ice."

The two essences with which I played extensively were tuberose and dill, tuberose being an essence I picked myself exactly because of its challenging nature which doesn't immediately produce thoughts related to food. And yet Tuberose Absolute (Polianthus tuberosa) is a must for anyone with an interest in perfumery, but also anyone with the desire to experience the complexity of nature, red in tooth and claw! Perfumes try to approximate with Beyond Love by Kilian and Carnal Flower being perhaps the truest to realism, although a few, such as Fracas or Tubereuse Criminelle, tend to overshadow some aspects in order to highlight others; butteriness and sweetness via copious orange blossom in the Piguet classic, menthol via camphoraceous notes in the Lutens cult scent.
My thinking about experiencing this marvel of nature in consumable form went around the facets of tuberose essence itself: Being familiar with Indian tuberose absolute I well knew the intensity of its deep, intoxicating aroma with rubbery and green tonalities over the lactonic sweet and "cheesier" ones.
My mind went into the route of cordials, long cool drinks that are always a refreshing and aromatic proposition welcome on our shores, to exploit the sweeter side of tuberose, but also giving an unexpected jolt that would create the effect that juniper produces in good gin: aromatic depth and crispness. The following recipe can be a good substitute of a Kir Royale or a Spritzer if instead of water you add some brut Champagne.
I'm also starting to think of what it might do to a decent Margherita!

Recipe for Lime and Tuberose Cordial

  • Limes
  • Sugar granulated
  • Anya's Garden tuberose essence
  • crushed ice
  • fresh spearmint for decoration
  • optional: Champagne, brut

  • Hand-juice as many limes as you like (I like the rougher "texture" of hand-juicing)
  • Measure the juice using a measuring jug to determine sugar ratio
  • For every litre of juice you will need 1 kilo of granulated sugar
  • Put the juice and sugar into a large pan and heat very gently over low heat
  • Stirring continually heat till the sugar is completely dissolved
  • Add one drop of tuberose essence for every litre of juice when "cooking" has finished
  • Let it cool, then add chilled water/champagne and crushed ice and decorate with spearmint
À votre santé!

Dill is another aroma with which I am intimately familiar. Fresh dill is a joy; small bunches of long, stamen-like delicate "leaves" that get routinely chopped off into soups, yoghurt pastes and cheese-pies, alongside shallots and fresh spearmint, or sprinkled onto fresh sliced cucumbers themselves sprinkled with salt. They aromatize the whole kitchen with the scents of springtime.
I also adore dill in hovmästarsås, the traditional Swedish sauce that accompanies gravlax, the cured hearty salmon dish. The fresh, slightly peppery, slightly wet aroma of dill mixes with sugary mustard and is cut by the saltiness of the fish.

To play with dill essence, I used it in something I make almost every week: tzatziki dip. This garlicky, thick paste is traditionally Greek and accompanies almost every variety of charcoal-grilled meat as well as several dishes of pasta, such as the famous Kahzak and Kyrguz recipe for Tatar Böregi (which the Turkish and the Greek who borrowed it call it "manti"). It's also the meanest dip for crudites! Just remember to brush your teeth and tongue afterwards to get rid of the garlic smell.

Recipe for Tzatziki Paste with Dill essence


  • 2 fresh and aromatic cucumbers (do NOT buy if they don't smell fresh and green)
  • 2 large pots of fresh, super thick strained Greek yoghurt with at least 8% solid fats (Fage is the widest distrubted brand and it's very good in 10% fat content, but if you have a local Middle-Eastern deli go and ask for fresh "strained yoghurt" served and packed by weight on cellophane)
  • Anya's Garden dill essence
  • 5-8 cloves of garlic (it's best to use raw garlic than powdered, it's more authentic)
  • salt and lemon zest to taste
  • a spoonful of extra virgin olive oil
  • optional: capers and black olives for decorating

  • Empty the yoghurt into a big bowl and let it sit covered with a towel. It might have a little bit of water surfacing. Throw that out with a spoon carefully. You want it to be as thick and creamy as possible.
  • Wash the cucumbers thoroughly and shred them in an onion hand-shredder/grater roughly
  • Add the cucumbers into the yoghurt
  • Clean and slice the garlic finely, you want it to be imperceptible, add to yoghurt
  • Put 3-4 drops of dill essence into the mix
  • Add lemon zest and salt to taste
  • Decorate with the capers and olives and refrigerate. The longer it sits the richer it tastes.
  • When you serve, spill the extra virgin olive oil on top. It makes the colours and flavours come alive!
Καλή όρεξη!

You can purchase the aromatic essences directly off Anya's Garden site. There will be more additions in the beginning of May. Tuberose is among them.

Other bloggers are writing about this too! Check out Anne's Food, Ca Fleure Bon, Better Baking, Bois de Jasmin and Stirring the Senses.

Educational Resource:
Guide to Career Education can assist amateur cooks with finding a good mix of art and cooking classes that will help you think outside the box when it comes to your cooking creations.

Disclosure: I was sent a sample of the essential oils by the perfumer.


  1. Wow, the tzatziki dip looks yummy! I ordered the ylang ylang and will give that a try soon. I think I will add dill to my next order along with lime. I must try this dip. :)

  2. Elena, thank you so much for the time and effort you put into testing the oils. Your pictures are beautiful, and the recipes are yummy!

  3. Thanks Lisa! I am glad you liked it. Off to go read more :-)

  4. Anya,

    thanks for giving me the chance to play around with them. I can see the potential for endless hours of experimentation in the kitchen, especially for the more unusual oils such as the very deep florals like tuberose (certainly a challenge) and the non culinary ones (how about some ambergris?)

  5. Anonymous17:34

    Oooh Yummy!

    I just printed out the Tzatziki recipe!

    Thanks for posting it.



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