Etrog Breakthrough

Etrog perfume has been in the making since 2008, when I started collecting tinctures of the fruit (the first batch was created for me by my dear mother). It's been a long process, which was undermined by the scarcity of the fruit, which is precisely what makes it so appealing to create a perfume for.

Shortage of supplies is the first most difficult thing in creating this perfume. The fruit is grown in two places - Calabria (Italy) and in Israel - where it has a religious significance and is grown especially for display during the holiday of Sukkot. So much so, that at single fruit (and not even a very good quality at that - we're most likely looking at fruit that has traveled by boat and whose peel is very far from being plump and fresh) - would start at $40 each.

Thankfully, in Sukkot 2008, I stumbled upon the Sukkah Mobile driven by the very kind and generous Rabbi Binyomin Bitton of Chabad Downtown in Vancouver. He not only told me where I can find citron fruit for myself, but also was happy to donate his own Etrogim at the end of the holiday for all of my perfuming needs. Of course, that year it was not possible because it was a "Shmita" year - and these etrogim were not allowed to be used for any other purpose but for displaying and praying upon during Sukkot. So I had to wait another year before receiving 4 etrogim from him and his sons. Ever since then, he saves me the Etrogim every year!

Meanwhile, there were other elements missing. Green myrtle, which I finally found the oil for. As well as citron peel oil, which I still kept looking for despite its scarcity. It finally turned up, and I have just received the shipment this week!

The oil, however, does not quite resemble the fresh fruit as I imagine it from childhood; nor the (not so fresh fruit) which one can purchase from Chabad or other synagogues in the fall before Sukkot. It does not quite do justice to the heavenly, aromatic, perfumed more than a typical citrus note would be - which resembles pineapple, flowers and is delicate and sublime (that is the best way I can describe citron's scent). It's more lemony than I would have liked it to be. Far too lemony, albeit very lively.

April snow

Thankfully, along with the same package of oils, I've also received another floral note which I was never too keen on working with but curious nevertheless: Poplar bud absolute. Pouring this scent into its bottle, it looks like melted butter, dotted with milk solids that couldn't quite melt in the heat. However, it has an aroma that is more medicinal than floral. More than anything else it reminds me of propolis (the intense smelling sticky resinous substance bees use to seal their hives with; it's also extremely valuable for its therapeutic uses:it's an antibiotic, anti microbial and anti fungal, strengthens the immune system, and is useful in treating burns as well). But it also reminds me of the white part of the citrus peel - which is exactly what I was after with the Etrog perfume. So now that my main theme oils are in (citron and myrtle - both of which are symbols of the holiday of Sukkot), and my floral heart is figured out, I think I can finally get into full swing of my perfume creation, and have it ready for you in the summer. It will be a Jewish Eau de Cologne!

Way Too Orange

orange yemenite etrog, originally uploaded by sambo in netanya.

My last mod of my Etrog perfume turned out juicy and mouthwatering delicious. That's nice and dandy. But it smells nothing like Etrog at all!
It smells way too orange.
It smells more like Japanese citron (aka yuzu) than the Jewish citron.

I've still got a long way to go with this one and as much as I love wearing this sweet citrus jus, it's not what I meant for it to be. Etrog should be far more elegant and dry and subtle.

I need to make a stronger Etrog tincture.
And I need to find myself some good quality myrtle (an essence that don't normally have at my fingertips because it's quite medicinal). I could fake it with some eucalyptus, which is very similar, to get a fast-snapshot of what I'd like for it to be. However, this perfume is all about the actual ingredients and their symbolic significance so I'm going to just wait patiently until I find it!

I'm really liking the base though, which features cypress. It's a very Mediterranean scent and I really want this perfume to feel very true to its origins and the region - yet very refined, elegant and subtle. It also has frankincense and olive resin as fixative which I feel are very appropriate for this perfume.

The route is long and winding... And I'm enjoying it. Which is more important than where I'm going and when I'm getting there.

Back to Citron

Etrog, originally uploaded by BecomingJewish.Org.

After a year of break from my Etrog project, I'm getting back to designing this perfume. It is probably going to be more of a cologne than a perfume though... And here lays the challenges - technical as well as creative:
1) Etrog (or citron - aka Citrus medica) essential oil is nowhere to be found to the best of my knowledge
2) Etrog fruit is just as rare. The Jews seem to be the only ones trading in it in North America, and the fruit starts at $40 each (you usually need to buy this with the whole set of "Arba'at ha Minim" - the 4 species of Sukkot.
3) Because of this rarity, it is neither easy to make tincture of the fruit, nor is it easy to remember how the scent smells like and stay true to the inspiration!
4) Last but not least - what I'm trying to create is more of an Eau de Cologne scent rather than a full blown perfume. This is the only way I have a chance of letting this delicate note truly shine, rather than being a mere top note!

I'm back to the lab and the drawing board this morning with my Etrog perfume. My 1st two mods of last year utilized a Yemenite Etrog tincture my mother made for me from organically grown fruit from the village. That year I also created my own Etrog tincture from the over-priced fruit here, possible only thanks to the courtesy of Rabbi Binyomin Bitton of Chabad Downtown, who donated to this project the 3 etrogim that he and his sons used throughout the holiday, and that received all the thorough blessings possible. I added to that my own personal etrog (less blessed, admittedly). And I tinctured this with my 1st year's students last fall, after Sukkot was over.

I created 2 mods last year, and kept them relatively simple. I used the abovementioned etrog tincture from the village, pomello tincture from an unusually fragrant and unwaxed pomelo that I completely luckily stumbled upon one day in a Chinese grocery store... A little bit of Japanese mint and rosemary verbenone, Japanese citron (yuzu), and a few fixatives: just benzoin in one, and benzoin and hinoki in the other.

I was much less than impressed with either of these, but had to let my frustration rest for a while before getting back to it. This morning seemed to be a good time to continue... Even though I feel I will need to double the concentration of the etrog tincture with more etrogim from this Sukkot in order to get the right result!

Etrog has a very fine aroma, not so much like citrus - more so like flowers and pineapple. It's hard to capture that, but funnily enough, my pomelo tincture seems more true to it than the actual etrog tincture... It has to have a fine balance between sweetness and dryness. It's a very, very elegant note and not at all like any other citrus (except for pomelo, perhaps).

So this morning, I've blended the same tinctures and yuzu, but also added some blood orange, green lemon and organic lemon, and the same herbs as before. I also fleshed this out with some florals - neroli and orange blossom absolute, petitgrain bigarade and lemon petitgrain. I fixed this with benzoin, frankincense, cypress, ambergris and olive resin tincture. I'm still feeling like a lot is missing and I'm quite sure I know what I want to add: green myrtle oil (which I thought I had but I don't!) and also citron petiitgrain, which I'm out of as well and love (it's a very rare oil to find, but not as rare as citron fruit peel, which I've never came across, ever!). And as I said, a stronger citron tincture, by adding more peels to last year's tincture. This is going to be at least a 3 years project, which can be on one hand really intimidating, but on the other hand - I think this is the beauty of the art of perfume: timing is everything, and the perfume has to ripen not only in the vat, but also in the perfumer's soul.

Tincturing Etrog

My Etrog odyssey took a sharp turn last year, when I knocked into a Hassidic Rabbi with a mobile Sukkah set on the back of a truck, and a set of lulav and etrog from blessing. All just across from the Vancouver Art Gallery and it's famous Olympic clock that is still ticking.

By this time, I was dreaming and hoping of making an Etrog perfume for quite some time. There are not too many citron orchards, not to mention citron essential oil to be found on the market (if there is any, it was certainly bought up by a larger company than mine). But I didn't know it would be possible to find enough fruit to make a tincture. It is a rare fruit and just one can cost dearly, and is only available throughout the holiday of Sukkot. And even than, one is not allowed to use the fruit at all during the holiday, but rather - guard it so that it does not get damaged.

Last year was a "Shnat Shmitah", meaning that even after the holiday, these fruit, which were grown in the land of Israel, were not to be used. A "Shnat Shmitah" is a "sabbatical year" for all the plants and trees in Israel and one is not allowed to eat any fruit from the trees or use them for their enjoyment! The Rabbi has kindly offered to look for a citron grown in Calabria, Italy. But to no avail. I were to wait another year before I could get any citron for tincturing myself.

Another year gone by, and this time I got an Etrog and Lulav for my family. I waited the whole week, and finally, yesterday afternoon, I finally started tincturing the etrog fruit from Succot with my 1st term students. I had only one fruit from my own household, and were suppose to get three others from the Rabbi and his family. But meanwhile, they were blessed with a baby girl, and so I had to wait until the baby and mother got back home. So the other three fruit were only tinctured today (I got them from the Rabbi later in the evening. So this tincturing event of today, even if for just three citrus fruit, was long anticipated!

The first etrog was not so different than a lemon in aroma. The second smelled like a perfume, almost floral. The third was again just like a lemon; and the last was so fragrant and green, it smelled like an herb, perhaps marjoram. Interesting. My hands smelled marvelous by the end of the zesting session.

Now the zests will rest covered in grain alcohol. They will give up on their aroma in about a week's time, at which point I will filter the alcohol and discard the peels. The tincture will be used along with two other citrus tinctures in my Etrog perfume (which I started working on in mid January 2009). But I will tell you more about that in about a week!

Tomorrow morning I will be cooking the remaining peels into an Etrog marmalade, based on Sherry Ansky's recipe.

Ingredients and tools: Etrog (citron) fruit, grain alcohol (about 94-97%), vegetable peeler

Peel the etrog as thinly as possible, taking care to remove only the colourful zest, and none (or just little) of the white peel. The essential oils are only in the zest.

Place the peels in the bottle

Pour alcohol into a bottle or a jar. Make sure the peels are just covered (to prevent them from drying, rotting and spoiling your tincture). At the same time, you don't want too much alcohol, or else your tincture will be too weak.

Mature for 7 days (or up to 10 days if you live in a very cool climate). Strain through paper filter and use as desired (in perfumes, colognes, etc.).

For making an Etrog liquor the process is similar, but requires the addition of sugar syrup in the end (to reduce alcohol content and sweeten the liquor). Use the peels of about 4-6 fruit (depending on their size) and mature for one week in 3 cups of pure grain alcohol OR 200 proof, aka 50% vodka (i.e.: Smirnoff Blue Label).
Now add the sugar syrup. To make the sugar syrup, cook 1 cup of sugar and 2 cups of water until the sugar dissolves. Cool down and add to the alcohol and Etrog peels. Shake well.
Mature for another 36 hours, and than filter. Citrus liquors are best served very cold - preferably frozen.

All the photos in this blog post were taken by my talented and generous brother Noam.

Etrog Citron on FoodistaEtrog Citron
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