Poltava, in central Ukraine, is famous for its honey. Every year the city and its environs host fairs celebrating honey in all its forms, and whenever I visit my grandmother, who is a Poltava native, I enjoy this sweet treat in gingerbreads, cakes, drinks and even savoury dishes. One of the most beloved local pairings is first-of-the-season honey drizzled over cucumbers.
On a recent visit, I discovered yet another way to eat honey – infused with roses. My grandmother’s neighbour brought over a jar of topaz-coloured liquid and explained that she had macerated fresh petals of red damask roses in acacia honey for a month and then strained them out, by which time the honey had become pure ambrosia. At first, I planned to eat it on toast, but it tasted so heavenly on its own that I ended up finishing the jar without any accompaniments.
The combination of honey and roses is a fortuitous one, since the two ingredients share similar aromatic compounds while being complementary. In a perfumery lab, I would often blend a touch of beeswax absolute into a rose accord to give it depth and sweetness. Honey accords, in turn, benefit from the lemon and green nuances of rose to balance out their richness. This idea was explored by Jean-Charles Brosseau’s Ombre Rose (€103 for 75ml EDP), the fragrance that became the classical benchmark for soft, powdery perfumes. Its drydown is generously coated in honey and musk, and in pairing with the rose petals, the effect is tender and velvety.
L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Drôle de Rose (£105 for 100ml EDT) also took a page from the vintage glamour of Ombre Rose by suggesting opulent roses and rice powder. Its treatment, however, is more transparent, highlighting the citrusy facets of roses and the floral complexity of honey. The composition also includes a violet note, and since violets have a raspberry nuance, the perfume tricks our senses by suggesting both fruit and flowers. Whenever I wear Drôle de Rose, I imagine that raspberries macerated in rose water and honey might make an excellent dessert.
The blend of acacia honey and damask roses that I tried in Ukraine had an unexpectedly bright scent. Although honey is typically a gourmand, sweet note in fragrances, it has plenty of facets to allow for other variations. For instance, in Hermès’ Rose Ikebana (£285 for 200ml EDT), the honey accord was used as part of a luminous floral effect. It gives glow to the spring-like freshness of tea roses and pink grapefruit, emphasising their effervescence.
Diptyque’s Eau Rose (£92 for 100ml EDT) is, likewise, an airy, light perfume that relies on honey to make flowers plusher. The rose remains the star of the composition, but it owes its depth to the clever combination of bergamot, lychee, geranium and mellow honey. The opening is uplifting and redolent of citrus, but as the perfume evolves, it becomes warmer and sweeter – a perfect marriage of white honey and red roses.
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.