Food by VICE

This Inventor Is Bottling Scents You Can Taste

A chef turned inventor has spent the last seven years figuring out how to bottle the taste of scent. I sat down with her to discuss her process and how she pulled it off.

by Elizabeth Rushe
Jun 16 2016, 4:00pm

If you're feeling unproductive, stop reading this.

Chef, cookbook author, and inventor Kille Enna has accomplished more in her few decades on this earth than most of us dream about achieving. The 43-year-old began working as head chef at Café Dell'Ugo in London at the age of 21, published nine cookbooks over the span of her career, pioneered organic produce in the 90s in Denmark, and established her studio in southern Sweden surrounded by her organic garden and a UNESCO-protected nature reserve, where she works today. Kille has dedicated her life to a sensuous journey in pursuit of the ultimate tastes the world has to offer.

killen-portrait-photography-by-Columbus-Leth

Chef, cookbook author, and inventor Kille Enna. Photo by Columbus Leth.

Enna's latest project is a range of botanical extracts that she describes as "an intimate experience of nature from roots, seeds, flowers, herbs and bark," bottled in flacons with a mister, akin to a perfume bottle. The extracts are the results of seven years of Kille tinkering with formulas, spending her life savings, and turning down job offers in order to nail the taste of a scent.

The flavor combinations of botanical extracts are evocative and striking: ginger and rosemary from Uganda; green cardamom and lavender; liquorice root from Uzbekistan; Damask rose and heather flowers. To taste these, the extract is sprayed into a glass, where it clings to the sides. Take a moment to breathe in the scent and then slowly drink from the glass. I sat down with the inventor to learn more about her process for capturing the taste of aroma, and why she wanted to do this in the first place.

killeen-studio-materials

Aromas ready for extraction in the studio. Photo by Enna.

MUNCHIES: How long did it take for you to develop these aromas? Kille Enna: Several events happened before I could gather steam and focus entirely on my aroma project. In 2007, I wrote my fifth cookbook, Killes Krydderier (Killes spices), which is a 350-page dedication to the spices that I adore. While I was writing the book, it was as if the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. I perceive spices in the same way that other people perceive other human beings, and when I talk about them, I endow them with traits. One might be "industrious," another, "utterly impossible," "willful," and so on. They are my characters. They're the ones who make demands and ask questions and make it all happen. Without herbs, roots, seeds, bark, and flowers, I cannot express myself. They are my mother tongue. I find that contrasts that make the experience of scent and taste touch me deeply, and sometimes I am lucky enough to discover something new. It is without a doubt an addiction.

One day, while I was cleaning out my attic, one title among the piles of cookbooks and old food magazines caught my eye: Perfume. I have no idea who gave me this book, but my passion for complex taste composition and scent led me to open the book. As I began to read it, I didn't stop for days. Every night, the book swept me away to places like Paris as the main character, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille—who is ostensibly stalking and murdering young virgins—is on a hunt for the perfect scent. For me, the captivation of the novel was about the sadness of a man lacking his own personal scent and the allure of the question it formulated: How do you capture a scent of that which you love?

I recognised my own desire to answer that question, but my history in the culinary arts prevented me from separating olfaction from gustation; scent from taste. So my desire was for more than the creation of yet another perfume. It had to be the taste of a scent.

kileen-studio-bottles

Scent bottle's in the inventor's studio.

So how exactly does one go about creating the "taste" of a scent? I had never made aroma extracts before, so I started from scratch. I began to read a few books on the subject. I did not understand the whole process. It did not make sense to me. So I quit reading and followed my gut feeling instead. It took a lot of effort—seven years actually—and all my savings before I had what I wanted. It's been an ongoing process of solitude, focus, and pure excitement, which takes place in my studio in Southern Sweden. The final step was finding the money to launch this ambitious project. I spent 2014 setting up the entire aroma project from A to Z. Last December, the first four aroma extracts were released.

Can you explain how the extraction technique works for the aromas? They are composed according to the tradition of perfumers, the artisanal process of extraction, matured from aromatic herbs, seeds, bark, flowers and spices. I only use raw plant material of exceptionally high organic-quality, grown on small-scale organic and biodynamic farms. Pure organic alcohol derived from organic wheat is used as the natural solvent for the macerated plant material. Then several months of aging follows. My aroma extracts are handmade in Denmark. Each aroma is filtered by hand without pressure and allowed to rest. I have tailored some very drastic temperature shifts in the process and I am convinced that this makes my extracts beautiful in more than one sense.

killeenna-studio-flavor-samples

Flavor samples. Photo by Enna.

What led you to create these particular combinations? Fresh ginger from Uganda has been a favourite of mine for many years in my cooking. The small, yellow tuber has a superior floral elegant attitude. It's very aromatic, though less sharp and persistent than ordinary large ginger root from China. It took me about four years to get this extract right. I had combined ginger with everything imaginable. Nothing seemed to hit my heart. It was too ordinary. My Ugandan ginger supplier accidentally sent a selection of new raw plant materials, including rosemary branches, which grow alongside these ginger roots I adore so much. A few days later, I thought to myself: Why not just use what thrives naturally by each other? This might work out for cooking, but for an extract where you want to showcase both an interesting scent and flavour, this mindset is very unusual and will almost never work out. So I made the first prototype and immediately felt something I had not come across before. Twelve to 15 prototypes later, I finally got there. It had an uplifting, warm, spicy, and caramelized honey foundation.

cropped-green-cardamon-perfume

Photo courtesy of Enna.

How did you narrow down the plant extracts to be the chosen ones for your final range of aromas? I wanted to achieve four completely different compositions for my first collection of aroma extracts. I didn't want them too overdone or too extreme. This is a feeling and I know exactly when it hits me. I get goose bumps and my eyes turn shiny. However, if my raw plant material is not at its peak and/or the combination isn't spot on, this will not happen.

licorice-perfume-crop

Photo courtesy of Enna.

Why is it import to you to only use raw plant materials and no ready-made essential oils? I use the raw plant material because I am the first one to handle it, and no one has come before me and separated or broken down parts of the material. All ready-made essential oils or extracts have already been exposed to a process. Someone has made selective choices, which affects the scent and taste. I want to make my own choices. I feel that the experience for the senses is deeper and more genuine if the raw plant material is left whole and almost untouched. If my raw plant material is not at its peak, then my sensory experience will not function. By separating the scent from the taste, you are first exposed to endless amounts of pure scent, followed by taste. When you add water to my extracts, honesty will arouse in your glass. I want to get you out into nature, and for that, water is the purest and most perfect transmitter.

What are you currently working on? That is a well-kept secret to be revealed in Spring 2017. I just finished custom-made recipes for botanical infusions for some restaurants in Copenhagen and London.

Thanks for speaking to me, Kille.