Wednesday, July 30, 2014

From Sweaty Stink to Sweet Goodness: The Magic of Browning

It never ceases to strike me as nothing short of magical how turning chopped onions in a pan over a hot stove fills the kitchen with the aroma of sweet caramel, succulent and penetrating to the very core of things. Usually the pleasantly invasive aroma, sneaking like Santa Claus down the chimney to offer gifts, complements the rich savory scent of meat or the naturally sweet and sour aroma of fresh tomatoes. It was for a vegetable & meat dish involving roasted eggplants and pork for which I stood over the stove the other day, browning onions slowly and thinking about the complexity of scent which man has added to the already rich palette of the natural world. By simply introducing the element of fire (simmering, browning, roasting over an open flame or over charcoals) man multiplied the pleasure of the olfactory sense exponentially. The reason is less romantic than my introduction, but fascinating to follow nonetheless.

via pinterest

Onions specifically offer a great glimpse into the mechanism of this aroma giving process. Their sulfurous "bouquet" has been likened to the scent of female sweat (as has grapefruit, another sulfurous material), but no matter what your view on that is (Flaubert and Baudelaire notwithstanding), most people classify volatile sulfurous components as unpleasant, more on which later. The organosulfur compounds called thiols present in onions (allyl mercaptan is the compound released upon slicing an onion) form a group,  also called mercaptans in the older days; a portmanteau deriving from the Latin mercurium captans  thanks to their superior bonding ability to mercury compounds. Thiols/Mercaptans are compounds with the -SH group bonded to a carbon atom.

Now you might be forgiven to think that mercaptans remind you of decay and stench; they're produced by animal and plant decay, are found in beer that has been exposed to ultraviolet light or in faulty wines (sulfur and yeast reacting in wild patterns) and are infamously contained in skunk secretions and in flatus. One form of mercaptan, T-butyl mercaptan, is routinely added to otherwise odorless natural gas to render a leak more likely to be detected. But they're not a damning thing per se: specific forms of thiols are responsible for the characteristic and coveted scent profile of grapefruit or ~interestingly!~ released upon roasting coffee beans, surely my idea of heaven this side of heaven.

The good part involving cooks and onions is that thiols can be easily oxidized to disulfides and higher oxidation products such as sulfonic acids, free from the associations had with their predecessor. Furthermore onions are comprised of 75%  water and they contain complex sugars. By browning a sliced onion in the pan the increased temperature makes water evaporate and break the bonds that hold chemical compounds contained and we see the plant matter shrink in front of our eyes and become soft and miserable. Yet those complex sugars are thus broken into monosacharides, i.e. glycose and fructose, resulting in caramelization and a more intense, sweet flavor than previously.

The so called Maillard reactions, a non-enzymatic type of chemical reaction that happens a lot in the kitchen, even at room temperature, also accounts for the breakdown of a reducing sugar with an amino acid, rendering things brown (This is the chemical process responsible for the nicely brow appearance of baked goods). The larger the sugar, the slower it'd react with the amino acids. Last but not least, the cysteine in the stewed pork (another sulfur containing ingredient) reacts with the sugars in the onions in another Maillard reaction to render the umami of meat that fills the mouth with rich satisfaction and the kitchen with the sweet caramel goodness of a deceptively wholesome dish. How far the mind can wander while making dinner…

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Giveaway of Niche Perfume Samples

Irises (and iris-named perfumes) come plentiful in both mainstream and niche sectors lately: from best-selling Infusion d'Iris by Prada, Donna Karan Iris and Iris Nobile (A.di Parma) to Guerlain's Figue-Iris, Iris Ganache (also Guerlain), Iris Poudre (F.Malle) and Iris Silver Mist (Serge Lutens). Even The Body Shop has a white musk version in their Midnight Iris edition. And many many more….Everyone wants to have an iris in their fragrance portfolio!

So it came as no surprise that Aedes de Venustas, a niche abode known to all aficionados, came up with Iris Nazarena. The effort is rewarded with a Fragrance Foundation award (Parfum Extraordinaire) and it's my privilege to be able to give away 10 samples to 10 readers who will put in a comment under this post until Thursday midnight. The lucky recipients will be announced on Friday 1st August, stay tuned.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Ancient Fragrant Lore (part 2)

"It is during The Eleusinian Mysteries [ceremonies of Athenian origin which celebrated the fertility and grain goddess Demeter and Kore (i.e. Persephone, of the myth of the pomegranate)]  that aromatics are used the most. The 9th and 10th day of the celebrations the hierophant makes a speech in which he explains to the initiated the joys which await them. In the Elysian Fields there is a golden city, with emerald fortifications and roads paved in ivory, where the gates are made of cinnamon. Around its walls the River of Perfume flows, a 100 cubits wide and deep enough that one could swim in it. The baths are crystal edifices held up by pillars of fragrant wood and in the bathtubs a warm and pleasantly odoriferous dew is ever flowing. Three hundred and sixty sources of pure water are located in this magnificent city, as many of honey and five hundred fountains of fine fragrance. The banqueting hall is a grove of trees bearing the most suave flowers and their fruits are cups which are automatically filled with wine when cut and put onto the table. Charming nightingales fill the air with their song and pick up fragrant blossoms which they drop onto the guests like scented snow. A thick vapor rises from the Perfumes River and floats within the banquet hall imparting a refined and suave fragrant dew."

the fresco of the "saffron gatherer" from the Minoan settlement of Akrotiri (on the island of Santorini)

Part of my longer article on Fragrantica, on this link (following part 1) into the history of aromatics and the preparation of fragrances in the Eastern Mediterranean region during antiquity (emphasizing the Minoan and Mycenean eras). Enjoy!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The winners of the draw….

…for the NVC Mohur extrait prizes are:

1st prize: Stephanie (swillmann at yahoo)
2nd prize: Jennifer Koth

Congratulations!! Please email me using Contact stating "MOHUR" in title of mail and including your full name and shipping data, a telephone number you can be reached (for the courier in case of need) and your username in the comments.
Neela will see to it that your prize arrives to you!

Thanks everyone for the enthusiastic participation and till the next one!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

End of July Blog Sale

It's that time again. The time when I open my stash and make big decants for my readers. If you're interested in a split of any of the following, please email me using Contact, preferably with Blog Sale in the title of your mail. 

Tom Ford Neroli Portofino: The Italian seaside and jet-set lifestyle in a bottle. A simple elegance of citrus, sunny beaches and joy. Part of the Private Line.

Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille: The natural counterbalance of the upbeat and uplifting Neroli Portofino is this dense and rich, boozy tobacco and vanilla-whiskey fragrance for men and women. Part of the Private Line.

Dior Dune: Vintage wonder of the most ground-breaking idea on "summer" or "seascape" scents. This is biscuit warmth and monastic herbs by the French seaside.

Dolce & Gabbana Sicily: The discontinued soapy aldehydic floral which rippled our mind's memories with its indelible Monica Belluci starring commercials (direction: Giuseppe Tornatore, music: Ennio Moricone).

Dolce & Gabbana By for men: Another discontinued fragrance, it used to be encased in a zebra print bottle, remember? Good fun.

Guerlain Samsara: The thumping beat of sandalwood plus flowers swathed in plush. The big oriental in its 90s incarnation is getting ready for its split.

Lancome Magie Noire: For those who are fed up with the summer heat and are preparing for the bewitching hours of autumn or would love to put a spell on heat altogether. Old-ish stash, pre-glass&metal bottle.

Serge Lutens Borneo 1834: A phantasmagoria of patchouli and roasted coffee notes in a cult version from the Palais Royal line. Limited quantities and smaller decants only.

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