Compartive Study: Rose Absolutes

Rosa damascena

Rosa damascena “Jacques Cartier” (Moreau Robert 1886 ) by Patrick Nouhailler

The first recipe I want to make calls for “Rose Absolute” – and ah, that can mean so many things! Figuring that there’s no such thing as “too much rose” I ordered three different small samples when I was stocking up on essential oils.

To test them, I put a drop of each on its own fragrance tester strip and sniffed, made notes, rested my nose, sniffed again, made more notes.

Rose de Mai Absolute

It’s amazing the degree of variation in such similar materials. The most unique one was “Rose de Mai” – which makes sense, as it’s a cabbage rose, Rosa centifolia, a slightly different species than the other two, which are both Rosa damascena.

Although this particular essence came from roses grown in Egypt, “Rose de Mai” is the rose famously grown in the region of Grasse, France and so it’s intimately connected to French perfumery. The liquid itself was the lightest in color, a light green-yellow, with a piquant, fresh, sweet, and a lightly spiced / peppery character with hints of green. This is a sprightly rose, rather than a sultry sexy rose – I found it to be my favorite, and also the most unique. It seemed..individual, pretty – but perhaps a bit unwilling to blend? It has its own precise character. And while the scent was strong, after I had smelled the other roses, I found myself unable to pick it up after I had sniffed the others, and so I wondered if it would bury easily when mixed with other strong scents. On the tester strip at least, it turned out to be surprisingly tenacious, given its “airy” character. Another thought: it immediately brought to mind Serge Lutens’ Sa Majeste la Rose.

Rose Absolute, Bulgaria

Bulgarian rose has a reputation for being most prized among perfumers. My 5 year old daughter immediately named this one her favorite. “This one smells strong! I like strong smells!” Wow, this is a rosy ROSE!  From my notes: Spicy, sweet, more vegetal than Rose de Mai – less light/fresh/green – denser, fruitier, apricot(?) – STRONGER, more savory. A maximum strength ROSE – the classic, straight up and intense. ROSE ROSE ROSE. Dark orange-red juice. Not a fussy and fickle beauty like Rose de Mai. This damask rose from Bulgaria was more a gorgeous country girl, rosy cheeked and sturdy, strong and beautiful. It turned out (not surprisingly) to have the best tenacity.

Rose Damascena Absolute, Turkey

From my notes: Beautiful! Fruity, sweet, jammy. A honey rose, soft, round, and mellow. Yellow-orange juice. Since the recipe I want to make is not a floral blend at all (rose plays only a supporting role) – I chose this one since it seems like it may blend well and round things out. This one had the least tenacity on the tester strip though.

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