The topic we are going to present today is part of the blog series “Culinary Techniques”, which will present various thermal, hydromechanical and biochemical methods of processing food. Enfleurage is one of the techniques that is almost completely neglected today, except in the perfume industry. Today we will present a culinary application of the previously mentioned technique.
From the Bronze Age, people knew that oils could absorb the scents of many flowers and herbs. However, enfleurage techniques have been applied by many civilizations throughout the long history of mankind, but standardization and practical application of the technique began in the 18th century French city of Grasse with many ships of harvested flowers at the perfect time of day to maximize yield, groups of young girls who placed the flowers in fat-filled glass chassis (a process called in french = enfleurage) and another swing of young girls removing the flowers after releasing their last fragrant aromas (a process called deflorage, french = defleurage). It is at this point that enfleuraging technique becomes widely used and popularized throughout Europe. In addition to the process itself, the term enfleurage is also used for the products obtained, ie. extractions of aromatic herbs and flowers in saturated fats.
The flowers were supposed to be extremely clean and free of moisture and the grease was cleaned to prevent rancidness (the process of lipid oxidation). To achieve the maximum saturation level, this process often took place over two months.
However, it was not until the 18th century that the art of separating aromatic extracts from oil using alcohol became practical. Some flowers, such as roses, violets and lily of the valley, retain their scent, easily extractable in hot oil. However, there is a more delicate class of flowers like jasmine and many tropical flowers that do not retain their scent which often fades under pressure. These species have built-in micro-factories of fragrances that constantly release small doses of their essence. Jasmine like many other tropical flowers behave accordingly. Over time, it was discovered that these flowers, placed at the bottom of the grease, continued to discharge their precious material long after cutting. This is exactly how the cold enfleurage technique and the process of extracting delicate flowers like jasmine and many tropics emerged, which soon revolutionized perfume shops.
Enfleurage is a process that allows fragrant substances from fresh and delicate flowers and aromatic herbs to be preserved by means of fats (or any other type of saturated odorless fats). There are two enfleurage techniques:
- Hot (whose final product is called the “Absolute“) and
- Cold (whose final product is called “Pomade“).
The choice of sub-technique to be applied is made mainly based on the characteristics of the food itself, ie the type of plants and flowers. Hot enfleurage was used for may rose, orange blossom and cassock, while cold enfleurage was used for tuberose and jasmine plants.
Hot enfleurage is effected by immersing fresh flowers in pots filled with saturated fat melted at 40 – 45°C. After 12 – 24 hours (depending on the plant species), the fat is separated by squeezing through larger straws and then reused for a new amount of floral or vegetable mass until the fat is completely saturated with fragrant substances. The saturated fat treated in this way is called pomade, and by further treatments ie. washing and extraction with ethanol alcohol yields a product called the absolute. It is also important to emphasize that this method is considered to be the oldest known method of preserving plant odors.
For cold enfleurage, flowers are placed daily in pots and thickly coated with grease. This method usually lasts for 60 days, with the flower or plant mass changing every two to three days, in order to completely saturate the fats with fragrant compounds. The above method requires 25 kilograms of jasmine flowers to inflate one kilogram of fat.
Contemporary solvent extractions allow for the rapid and scientific capture of delicate floral odors, but no extraction method captures odors as true as cold enfleurage.
The importance of the culinary application of enfleurage lies in a new (rediscovered) tool that allows Gastronomic and hospitality workers a wide range of new products. It is important to emphasize that the health and safety aspect of the product and therefore the choice of starting materials is of crucial importance for nutritional use. Many flowers have toxins and contaminants that are hazardous to human health, so the technique requires a great deal of prior knowledge of the toxicology of the plants. Whether using pomades or absolutes to prepare gastronomic products such as rosemary canapés with smoked trout or orange-based sauce, this technique opens up new tasty horizons.