Some perfumers put a decidedly sweet spin on roses. It’s a perfectly viable strategy. After all, get east of Athens and you’re as likely as not to find rosewater flavoring your deserts and candies. Rosewater is in Turkish Delight, and in Mahjoun, also in a tremendous number of other confections, so many in fact, that you might be pardoned for thinking that rosewater is a denizen of the pantry and not the dressing table – but you’d only be partly right.
Roses, of course, are one of the core materials of Silk Road perfumery with its ancient traditions. Travelers and inhabitants of this area have always used roses and attars (generally a blend of rose and sandalwood) to scent the walls of mosques, and robes, and skin (vide Serge in the Summertime). Choose to go this particular route in composing a perfume and you rapidly find yourself in a neighborhood where roses and their various uses in perfumery and cooking are already as old as time.
There are several such perfumes on the market to choose from. There’s the well known Safran Troublant (L’Artisan Parfumeur), a scent that pairs rose with saffron, or more likely safraleine given the cost of saffron, but in any event the effect is decidedly Indian dessert, Gulab Jamon possibly. Even better than the original Safran Troublant is Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Cimabue, which strikes me as being more lasting and more nuanced as a scent. Cimabue is a wonderful thing to wear to an Indian restaurant and enjoy during the meal. I would, however, avoid it on stew or pizza night.
If you prefer your roses to dominate the dessert, then Parfums de Rosine’s Rose Kashmirie is a distinct possibility. Kashmirie is very much a story of saffron and rose, and is a considerable presence, which is to say not suited to wear to the office, because of its quite impressive throw – one small sample on a piece of paper in a brandy snifter perfumed our entire living room for hours – but it is lovely. Rose Kashmirie is the most decidedly gourmand rose scent that I’ve ever come across. At once absolutely rose and positively foody, but still retentive of a modicum of glamor, so that it doesn’t smell as if you’d spilled kheer down the front of your shirt. Be aware, though, that Kashmirie is probably not for all occasions or all cuisines. I’d deploy it with discretion myself.
By the by, you can use rose water in an easy dessert. All you need is plain Greek yoghurt, rose water, cardamom pods and powdered sugar. To one cup yoghurt, you put 3TBS sugar ground in a clean coffee grinder with two or three cardamom pods off which you strip the fibrous outer covering and combine this with ¼ tsp rosewater and the yoghurt. It’s lovely with fresh berries and un-sprayed rose petals.
Perhaps roses are simply inseparable from food for our species. There’s speculation among botanists – a speculation I’m borrowing from Peter Beales’ Classic Roses by the way- that roses were cultivated perhaps 5,000 years ago or so, possibly in China, as a food source initially. This makes sense. You can eat the shoots, you can eat the hips, and you can eat the flowers themselves, so perhaps given that length of gastronomic association, you can’t expect roses not to have something edible in their smells. You just don’t always want too much of it.
I guess that Mary Jane would concur.