A Japanese friend recently served me a cup of sakurayu, a salted cherry blossom tea that she brought from Kyoto. The flowers unfurled slowly in the hot water, turning the liquid a shade of pale pink and infusing it with the aroma of almond and apricot. This springtime drink made me wonder what it is about the combination of salt and flowers that makes it so intriguing.
Salt has its own mild scent and, depending on its processing and provenance, it ranges from bitter and iodinated to flinty and flowery. However, the magic of salt is its ability to volatilise the aromas of other ingredients. You can experiment by cutting a tomato in half and smelling it raw. Then sprinkle it liberally with salt, wait for a few minutes and have another inhale. Even if your tomato is an uninspiring greenhouse variety, once salted, it will have a more pronounced perfume.
A similar transformation happens with cherry blossoms. The fragrance of pink sakura is delicate, with subtle hints of honey and bitter almond. Pickled in salt, however, cherry flowers acquire a much richer scent. As a perfumer, I recognise a hint of coumarin, the same component that gives tonka beans their roasted almond and sweet hay aroma. Sakura blossoms are then blended with plum vinegar, which is also salted, to amplify both the pink colour and the almond notes. The layers of marine flavour are a surprise, as is the complexity and boldness of this elegant beverage.
When I’m not drinking sakurayu, I enjoy the combination of salt and flowers via several perfumes that play with this combination. The illusion of salt is created by using materials with marine, briny or dry mineral characters. For instance, Parfum d’Empire Azemour Les Orangers (£110 for 100ml EDP), authored by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato in an homage to his parents’ orange grove in Morocco, is marvellously salty and savoury. When the composition opens up with pepper and bergamot, I imagine orange petals tossed with salt crystals and bitter green leaves. Even if white flower is the main impression, the briny accents of salt, moss and driftwood keep the sweetness of orange blossoms in check.
The Different Company’s Jasmin de Nuit (€290 for 250ml EDP) may seem like a simple jasmine blended with sandalwood and amber. Yet the combination of star anise and cardamom gives it a savoury character that brings out the marine, salty facets of these classical night-blooming flowers. Perfumer Céline Ellena also successfully explored salty notes in the brand’s Sel de Vétiver (€177 for 100ml EDP), a vignette of marine vetiver and iris, but Jasmin de Nuit is her most unexpected creation, given its many contrasts.
Another salt-and-flowers treat is Hermès’ newest launch, Un Jardin sur la Lagune (£89 for 100ml EDT). The garden is in Venice, the flowers are white and the effect is sunlit. The lemony scent of icy magnolias is set against the voluptuous spice of lilies, while the salty woods bridge the two blossoms and linger deliciously on skin. You can almost feel a sea breeze ruffling your hair.
Victoria Frolova has been writing her perfume blog boisdejasmin.com since 2005. Her explorations of fragrance touch upon all elements that make this subject rich and complex: science, art, literature, history and culture. Frolova is a recipient of three prestigious Fragrance Foundation FiFi Awards for Editorial Excellence and, since receiving her professional perfumery training, has also been working as a fragrance consultant and researcher.