Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Food & Fragrance ~ perfume books

Aroma, Mandy Aftel and Daniel Patterson

As far as collaborative projects go, perfumer Mandy Aftel and chef Daniel Patterson totally nailed it with Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Food & Fragrance. More of an inspiring manual than a cookbook, the down-to-earth text provides comprehensive information on making fragrance and enhancing food with 27 aromas—from classics like green tea to the intriguing litsea cubeba, distilled from a Chinese fruit.

The brilliance of Aroma is that it provides a good handful of things to do with each featured ingredient, a number of which are readily available at the grocery store. And they’re not all elaborate, hours-in-the-kitchen concoctions, either. In addition to basic dressings and sauces that can be kept for weeks or months, each section begins with simple suggestions for using a fragrance “in the everyday kitchen.” Adding a few dashes of rosewater to frozen strawberries, vodka and seltzer is a particular favorite.

But really every recipe I’ve tried has been phenomenal — whether it was straight from the book or adding to a tried-and-true favorite. I don’t care for lavender, but it does amazing things to shortbread. When I made sweet onion–rosemary soup and pan-fried potatoes with saffron-garlic mayonnaise for dinner, my husband said, “This is, like, restaurant food.” Even some not-so-fresh napa cabbage was excellent when steamed with mint leaves and halibut.

The fragrance recipes include full-blown liquid perfumes with quite a few notes, but there are also numerous entry-level items like Saffron, Ginger, and Blood Orange bath salts and Orange Flower and Sandalwood face mist. These are elegant in an Aftelier-does-Jo-Malone kind of way, and if you’ve been cooking up a storm then you already have a good handful of the ingredients. Aroma certainly isn’t meant to be an in-depth resource for fragrance making, but it shows how to borrow from the pantry in some really clever ways. I never would have thought to use truffle oil in solid perfume; when cool weather arrives I’ll be living in White Truffle and Blood Orange. In the meantime, balsamic–black truffle vinaigrette breathed new life into summer salads, and a splash of truffle oil has taken kale chips (my own recipe) to a new level of addictiveness.

Although Aroma is currently out of print, it's easy to find online. If you love to play in the kitchen, and especially if you do handmade gifts for the holidays, this book is a must. But even if you live on a few easy-to-prepare items Aroma is still very much worth a look. It’s amazing what a difference a few drops of essential oil can make.

Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Food & Fragrance 
By Mandy Aftel and Daniel Patterson. 216 pp.
Artisan, 2004. $30.

Note: a copy of this book was provided for review. 

See also: The Perfection of an Ingredient: a Perfumer in the Food World 

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  1. Marjorie Rose says:

    Oh, this sounds right up my alley! AND there’s a copy at the library; I just put it on hold. Thanks!

    • Aleta says:

      Yay! I’m kind of bummed it’s not in my library, I want everyone to read it.

  2. ladymurasaki says:

    I MUST HAVE THIS. I love experimenting with food and drinks, so this will be very useful to me.

    • Aleta says:

      It’s true, you must have this :) I really think it’s perfect for people who love to play in the kitchen.

  3. FragrantWitch says:

    Oooh, I love this sort of thing! That soup and potato combination sounds divine. Off to track down a copy…thanks!

    • Aleta says:

      The soup and potatoes are so good we had them again for dinner last night even though it’s a bazillions degrees outside. And the fish again tonight, with a big fresh salad, which was a bit more seasonally appropriate :P

  4. Rappleyea says:

    Wonderful review! Thank you. I’ve been a practicing aromatherapist for 20 years now, mainly therapeutic, so this is a different avenue of great interest to me. Another book for my library.

    • Aleta says:

      Awesome! I think my coworkers would very much agree that the shortbread provided the perfect stress-relieving combo of carbs and lavender ;) I hope it will be of use to you!

  5. therabbitsflower says:

    Thanks for the review! Would you mind sharing your recipe for kale chips? I’m already imagining eating some with a splash of truffle oil. :)

    • Rappleyea says:

      2nd this request…. please…..

      • Aleta says:

        I was hoping someone would ask! It’s really easy:

        1 lb fresh kale, 1-2 T olive oil, 1-2 t truffle oil (optional), sea salt to taste (serves 2-4)

        Preheat the oven to 250 degrees (200 for convection ovens).

        Make sure the kale is dry; leave them out on a cutting board for a few hours if they’re not. Pull the leaves from the stems in pieces as large as you can manage, and spread out on a light-colored baking pan—air-filled cookie sheets work really well. Very lightly coat the kale with olive oil; I find it works best to pour a tablespoon into the palms of my hands, scrunch the pile of kale to distribute, then go back through and rub through each leaf so it’s completely coated. Then use the same method to add the truffle oil. Spread out the kale on the sheet and lightly sprinkle with salt.

        Bake for 1-2 hours on the middle rack. Check every 30 minutes, fluffing and spreading them out as they reduce in size. The finished chips should be crisp and green—dehydrated rather than browned. If the chips on the edges are browning while the ones in the middle are still really moist, move the brown chips to the center of the sheet and lower the oven temperature.

        (I save the small leaf bits and stems for soup; they freeze well.)

    • Marjorie Rose says:

      The recipes I’ve seen for Kale Chips are pretty simple. You wash and DRY the kale very well. Cut out the tough ribs and lightly chop. Coat lightly in oil. Salt. Roast at highish temps in the oven until dehydrated. I think you could use a food dehydrator, too.

      • Rappleyea says:

        Thank you, Marjorie Rose!

  6. aftelier says:

    Thank you so much Aleta for your fantastic review! I really enjoyed writing Aroma, wanting people to experience the joys of using essences as much as I do!

    • aftelier says:

      P.S. I’m very glad to have 6 of my Chef’s Essences available at Williams-Sonoma…

  7. hajusuuri says:

    Thanks for the review! I don’t cook and have been living the foodie lifestyle vicariously through watching Food Network shows. In last week’s Cupcake Wars (the Billionaire Boyfriend Launch Party episode), the first challenge was to make cupcakes using ingredients used in perfumes such as lemongrass, lavender, fig, rosewater, among others. I was flabbergasted when one of the bakers commented that she WILL NOT USE rosewater because it “smelled like grandma’s bathwater” and she said it so snarkily that I wanted to throw her and her assistant in a vat of rosewater to teach them a lesson! I’m so glad she lost in the end due to her, according to the judges, use of a very old fashioned black & white bride and groom silhouette front and center on her display.

    • hajusuuri says:

      I also meant to add that I will check this out from my local library and if it’s not available there, I will use the Inter-Library Loan system.

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