5 Reasons Aromatics Belong in Your Kitchen

herb bunch

I grew up in a small, termite-riddled farmhouse on Maui, a space my mother brightened with daily spritzes of lavender and bouquets of rose geranium. Our humble kitchen boasted jars of tahini and spirulina alongside tins of my mother’s homemade comfrey healing salve. She was an aromatherapist and herbologist extraordinaire, and I learned early on that scent is as integral to flavor and healing as any other ingredient or remedy. Kale & Caramel: Recipes for Body, Heart, and Table, a collection of eighty vegetarian recipes and stories, is a celebration of this inherited aromatic wisdom.

In our home, there was little separation between ingredients used for body and ingredients intended to be consumed — what went on your skin was always pure enough to eat. And thus was born, two decades later, Kale & Caramel: a place where food is used both in the kitchen and for nourishing DIY body and beauty products.

In chef-speak, fragrant ingredients are called aromatics: herbs and flowers that release, impart and imbue scent to food. As I grew older, my aromatic concoctions evolved from smashed banana face masks to cardamom rose coco whip and citrus blossom sugar scrubs. But the guiding principle of aromatic inspiration remained: I’m awed by the way aromatics transform a dish — not just its flavor profile, but in the way we experience the food as a whole, dynamic ecosystem of sensory perception.

coco rose moussekale and caramel

While my new cookbook Kale & Caramel: Recipes for Body, Heart, and Table is an ode to eight herbs and four flowers that will nourish, heal, and transform you in their own right, here are five ways aromatics can elevate your kitchen game on the regular.

AWAKEN THE SENSES

We tend to eat with our gaze and our taste buds only, but flavor is as much olfactory input as it is taste. Moreover, smell is the most potent awakener of sense memory: A tiny whiff of fresh pesto might transport you to a sticky summer in Italy as quickly as a lingering rush of jasmine on a street corner may send you into a lovesick reverie. Once we understand how scents affect us, we can cook and create in the kitchen with all five senses wide awake and use them to summon the specific experiences and memories we desire.

BOOST FLAVOR

Aromatics tend to open the palate in a similar way to a dash of lemon juice or a sprinkle of sea salt — every other element of flavor awakens to their touch. Fresh herbs are brilliant in juices, salads, smoothies, sauces and soups as they punch up flavor and act as a unifying bridge between salty and sweet.

carrot salad

EASY ELEGANCE

Thyme-flecked ricotta for a fig galette. Spicy orange blossom vinaigrette for a carrot, feta and pistachio salad. Basil-infused whipped cream for a strawberry cream pie. Integrating aromatics into your recipes opens up another stratosphere of elegant and unexpected flavor, no complex preparation or techniques required.

Thyme-flecked ricotta for a fig galette. Spicy orange blossom vinaigrette for a carrot, feta and pistachio salad. Basil-infused whipped cream for a strawberry cream pie.

STREAMLINE YOUR BEAUTY ROUTINE

Use edible ingredients and aromatics to simplify and streamline your beauty routine. I wash my face with raw honey and moisturize with minimal-ingredient oils like sweet almond, apricot kernel and raw sesame spiked with jasmine or rose essential oil. Kale & Caramel offers a number of food-derived face masks (think: Blackberry Basil, Cucumber Rose and Oregano Oatmeal) that will leave your skin (and your wallet) glowing.

mortar pestle herbs

PLANTS AS ALLIES

Aromatherapists have used the scents of aromatic plants and flowers for their healing properties for centuries. Lavender soothes anxiety. Rose mends a broken heart. Peppermint eases nausea. All of these aromatics can be used in both their fresh or their extracted form to beautiful, potent effect. Kale & Caramel provides charts that detail the healing properties of the eight herbs and four flowers that comprise its chapters, from basil to thyme and lavender to orange blossom.

Breathe deep. Ease awaits you.

What are your favorite aromatics to cook with?

Images Copyright © 2017 by Lily Diamond from KALE & CARAMEL: Recipes for Body, Heart, and Table published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Photos copyright © 2017, Lily Diamond

Lily is a writer, photographer and proponent of wildness in the kitchen. In 2012, she created the much-beloved blog Kale & Caramel. Lily grew up on Maui and graduated from Yale University. She lives in Los Angeles, and her first book, "Kale & Caramel: Recipes for Body, Heart, and Table" is out now (Atria/Simon & Schuster).

5 COMMENTS
  • Brandon Marshall August 15, 2017

    In the summer I really really love my kitchen when it smells of lime and lime – it’s very fresh. In the winter I like to smell the herbs that I made tea with – camomile and thyme.

  • MBLou May 8, 2017

    “termite-RIDDEN” is the proper phrase up top there!

    Does sweet almond oil have a scent? I’ve seen so many people use it for their face lately.

    • Lily | Kale & Caramel May 8, 2017

      Hi there! Sweet almond oil is odorless—and perfect for moisturizing sensitive skin on the face and body. And re the termites (ha!)—I can see how you’d want to say ridden, but the usage here pertains to riddled with, as in full of, something. Excited for you to try incorporating sweet almond oil! You can find it in online, of course, or in the body care section at most health food stores. And there are lots of easy DIY oil recipes in the book. xo!

  • I love using herbs to cook. When I began to prepare my own food, I had no knowledge of them. But now I add lemon and citrus to a lot of my dishes and I love parsley and mint!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

    • Lily | Kale & Caramel May 8, 2017

      Hi Charmaine! Citrus, parsley, and mint are absolute faves in my kitchen, too. It’s incredible how they transform and elevate flavors. xo

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