Aphrodisiac of the Day: Orange Blossom

Orange Blossom by Ayala Moriel
Orange Blossom, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.

"When Adar comes in - happiness is increased" (mi'she'nichnas Adar marbin be'simcha).
Adar is the 6th month of the Jewish calendar (or the last... Depending if you start counting from Rosh Hashana or Passover!), and it's when Purim is celebrated. It also has a very close name to the Hebrew name for citrus - Hadar.

And - low and behold - it's also the season for citrus to bloom in the Mediterranean region where I come from. At this time of the year - end of March and all through April - orange flowers and all things citrus permeate the air with their euphoric aroma, making even the gloomiest of souls feel all cheerful and optimistic.

Orange blossoms are a long-known aphrodisiacs, and they are the only flower I've chosen for the series this year, because although they are an exquisite and costly perfume, they are also readily available in their edible version: orange flower water. These are be readily sought at most Middle Eastern, Greek and Persian as well as East Indian grocers, and should be stored in the fridge of every foodie and perfumista and anyone seeking for pure natural beauty. I use these beautiful waters to spritz on my face every night (and also in the morning or during the day when it's really dry - for example: when traveling by air). The fragrance is reviving, soothing and will make you feel 400% better than before applying it... Use it on its own after you cleansed or simply washed your face with water; or before applying your usual hydrating concoctions (I use my own handmade facial elixir of nourishing botanical oils).

All citrus blossoms smell heavenly, but the species used for perfume are from Citrus aurantium - the same tree that provides us with bitter orange peel oil (through expression of the zest), petitgrain bigarade (steam distillation of the leaves, twigs and often also the buds), and Neroli (the steam distilled essential oil of the same flowers). Furthermore, the distillate water (orange flower water) which I have just mentioned are processed with a solvent to produce an unusual product called orange flower water absolute. It's a most resourceful tree, as you can see!

The absolute is floral and citrusy all at once, but richer, sweeter and warmer than the fresh and innocent, honeyed Neroli. It is opulent, intoxicating and considered one of the "white florals" along with tuberose, ylang ylang, jasmine and narcissus.

Orange blossom absolute shares some qualities with jasmine absolute (due to presence of both indole and methyl anthranilate) and is round, soft and slightly tart - in my opinion is very true to the fresh orange blossoms, with some herbaceous and rich, honeyed undertones. It is an extremely versatile essence, and is used in both Oriental and floral compositions for women, where it's luscious, narcotic floral qualities are accentuated; and is also a wonderful floral for masculine scents as well as fresh and dry Eau de Cologne types.

Orange flowers have been traditionally used to scent bridal bouquets, and Neroli perfume was "prescribed" to brides on their white-wedding night to reduce the stress and anxiety before losing their virginity. It's relaxing and stress-relieving qualities are also put into use with children - in the south of France children drink a concoction of steamed milk with honey and orange flower hydrosol to induce a restful sleep.

At another time, neroli was used so often by Italian prostitutes, that the smell became extremely associated with promiscuity (similarly to how White Musk has become in the 80's and 90's)... Thankfully, those days are over and we can enjoy orange blossom's seductive qualities with no negative associations.

There are countless recipes for orange flower water in desserts and beverages. It is widely used in various Middle Eastern pastries (baklava) and spoon desserts (Malabi), not to mention many halva and various East Indian sweets. Another creative way to use orange flower is in fruit salads (try it over strawberries or cantaloupe!) and even in vegetable salad vinigraitte for a refreshing yet surprisingly floral aroma.

Aphrodisiac perfumes containing notable amounts of orange blossom: Amaranthine (Penhalligon's), Bois d'Hiver, Chinatown (Bond No. 9), Fleurs d'Oranger (Serge Lutens), Jean Paul Gautier Classique, Jitterbug (Opus Oils), La Chasse aux Papillon (l'Artisan Parfumeur), For Her (Narciso Rodriguez), Obsession (Calvin Klein), Opium (YSL), Orchid (Aftelier), Parfum Privé (Aftlier), Popy Moreni, Private Collection (Estee Lauder), Razala, Schizm, Silences (Jacomo), Tolu (Ormonde Jayne), Vent Vert (Balmain), Zohar

Bitter Orange or Bergamot - The Giving Tree Award Goes To Whom?

Common knowledge is not always correct, and the main reason this happens with perfumery’s building block is simple: the widespread use of synonyms and various traditional names for particular oils rather than using the more accurate and reliable Latin name of the species of origin.

It is therefore not so surprising that bit by bit, many perfume aficionado as well as amateur DIY perfumers were lead to believe that it is the bergamot (Citrus aurantium var. bergamia) tree that provides the perfumer with the generous palette of oils of bergamot, petitgrain, neroli and orange flower absolute.

This is, however, very wrong! The Giving Tree Medal should be awarded to the Bitter Orange Tree (Citrus aurantium var. amara). Ther names for the bitter orange tree are Seville orange, sour orange and bigarade orange.

This citrus subspecies is very resilient of disease and therefore is used for grafting other citrus subspecies (i.e. sweet oranges). It bears very sour and bitter fruit that is inedible for the most part (except for use in marmalades, because of its high pectin content).
Despite its very limited culinary use, bitter orange is held in high regards from an olfactory point of view, supplying the perfumer’s organ with a few priceless essences:

1) The unusually floral, sparkling bitter orange oil from the fruit’s peel, which has a dry, bitter aroma with sweet undertones. It has excellent uplifting qualities and blends beautifully with forals, showcasing their beauty like no other citrus does. This oil is expressed from the peel (though in some countries, after the expression the peel will be submitted to further extraction by steam distillation, which provides a very poor oil, often mixed with the expressed bitter orange oil to adulterate it).

2) The middle note of petitgrain bigarade, steam distilled from the leaves and twigs of the tree after they are pruned. This is a fresh, dry, aromatic, astringent green-leafy yet citrus note, most prized for its astringent presence in colognes and aftershaves. Other petitgrain essential oils are available in far lesser quantities, such as: petitgrain lemon, petitgrain combarva (from the kaffir lime tree) and petitgrain cedrat. The majority of petitgrain oils available though are from the bitter orange tree.

3) Orange flower absolute – produced by solvent extraction from the same flowers of bitter orange. This produces an essence that is a base to middle note, and is very deep, rich, honeyed quality. It shares some similarities to the more indolic jasmine absolute, yet with a very distinct citrus tartness. A complex building block that is valued for its balance between sweet and tart, floral and fresh. It is used in colognes and many men’s fragrances to add a warm yet fresh body to the fragrance. It is also used in many floral bouquets and oriental compositions, adding a sensual complexity and vivacity.

4) The heart to top note of neroli – this is the steam distilled essential oil from the flowers of the tree. Neroli essential oil is one of the most expensive essential oils. It was named after the princess of neroli, who favoured this scent like no other, and used it to scent herself and all her belongings. Neroli essential oil has unique calming effect on the mind, and was therefore used to reduce the anxiety of (virgin) brides (it is also traditionally used in bridal bouquets). Neroli has a sweet yet clean and dry ethereal quality, it’s very delicate and light. It is often used in colognes as well as floral composition to add a light floral lift.

5) Orange flower water is a by product of the neroli production: some of the aromatic elements of neroli are water soluble, and therefore stay in the water in the process fo distillation. The same process happened with the steam distillation of roses, which in turn provides us with rose water. Orange flower water is used mostly in food (to flavour sweets and baked goods, particularly in the Middle East, Mediterranean region and India) cosmetics (it makes a fantastic gentle tonic on its own, for oily skin or acne prone skin, yet without causing any harm or drying; it is also used as a base in lotions and other cosmetic preparations). It can be also used to top off various Eaux (Eau Fraiche, Eau de Cologne and Eau de Toilette), and can be used as a fragrance on its own in warm weather. Click here for an excellent recipe for the Basbousa cake – a semolina cake made with yoghurt and an orange flower water flvaoured honey-syrup.

6) Orange flower water absolute is a further process of the orange blossom water. It is similar to orange flower absolute, but is more sheer, honeyed and somehow smells watery as well. It is used as a heart note.

Bergamot orange, on the other hand, provides us only with the oil of the fruits’ peel, which has the disctinct bergamot aroma – green, floral, peculiar yet citrusy, and very heady. It is used extensively in flavouring the Earl Grey tea, and that’s how bergamot is most known to the public. It is also used in Italy and Greece in certain marmalades and candied, but this is not very common.

Images are courtesy of Wikipedia.
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