My Citizens, breathe deeply and know the intoxicating scents of paradise, for today the Khan of Connoisseurs, the Regent of Rarities – YOUR TFD! – shares with you the first of several recipes in our theme week of dishes incorporating the rarest of perfume essences! It is said that we eat with our eyes, but it is truly the SCENT of a dish that can bring us back to a place and time long forgotten, just as Proust wrote of when he smelled lime-scented madeleines and was instantly transported back to his childhood.
The sense of smell is one that is most rooted in the primal, calling back to our most ancient DNA when smell was the first indication of food or predators in the vicinity. Today, I wish to kick off our week of scented dishes with a modern recipe, created not a decade ago in the ancient country of Oman, home of frankincense and most recently, the home of frankincense ice cream!
Frankincense (also known as olibanum, Persian: کندر [Kondoor], Hebrew: לבונה [levoˈna], Arabic: اللبان al-libān or Arabic: البخور al-bakhūr) is an aromatic resin used in incense and perfumes. Frankincense is characterized by a balsamic-spicy, slightly lemon fragrance of incense, with a conifer-like undertone. It is used in the perfume, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.
There are five main species of Boswellia that produce true frankincense. Resin from each of the five is available in various grades, which depend on the time of harvesting. The resin is hand-sorted for quality. The English word frankincense derives from the Old French expression franc encens, meaning “high-quality incense”. The word franc in Old French meant “noble” or “pure”.
In Greek (the language of the New Testament), Arabic, Phoenician and Hebrew, the name of Frankincense is cognate with the name of Lebanon; this is postulated to be because they both derive from the word for “white” and that the spice route went via Mount Lebanon. Frankincense is tapped from the scraggly but hardy trees by striping (slashing the bark) and letting the exuded resin bleed out and harden. The hardened streaks of resin are called tears. Several species and varieties of frankincense trees each produce a slightly different type of resin. Differences in soil and climate create even more diversity of the resin, even within the same species.
Boswellia sacra trees are considered unusual for their ability to grow in environments so unforgiving that they sometimes grow out of solid rock. The initial means of attachment to the rock is unknown, but is accomplished by a bulbous disk-like swelling of the trunk. This growth prevents violent storms from detaching the tree. This feature is slight or absent in trees that grow in rocky soil or gravel.
The trees start producing resin at about eight to 10 years old. Tapping is done two to three times a year with the final taps producing the best tears due to their higher aromatic terpene, sesquiterpene and diterpene content. Generally speaking, the more opaque resins are the best quality Frankincense has been traded on the Arabian Peninsula for more than 6,000 years. Its use was characteristic in religious rites throughout Mesopotamia and the Eastern Mediterranean from the earliest antiquity.
Southern Arabia was a major exporter of frankincense in antiquity, with some of it being traded as far as China. In Chinese medicine, it (ru xiang) along with myrrh (mo yao) have anti-bacterial properties as well as blood-moving uses. In Chinese medicine, it (ru xiang) along with myrrh (mo yao) have anti-bacterial properties as well as blood-moving uses. It can be used topically or orally. The Egyptians cleansed body cavities in the mummification process with frankincense and natron. In Persian medicine, it is used for diabetes, gastritis and stomach ulcer. In Persian medicine, it is used for diabetes, gastritis and stomach ulcer. Frankincense is used in perfumery and aromatherapy. It is also an ingredient that is sometimes used in skincare. The essential oil is obtained by steam distillation of the dry resin.
The incense offering occupied a prominent position in the sacrificial legislation of the ancient Hebrews. The Book of Exodus (30:34-38) prescribes frankincense, blended with equal amounts of three aromatic spices, to be ground and burnt in the sacred altar before the Ark of the Covenant in the wilderness Tabernacle, where it was meant to be a holy offering—not to be enjoyed for its fragrance. Scholars have identified frankincense as what the Book of Jeremiah (6:20) relates was imported from Sheba during the 6th century BC Babylonian captivity.
Frankincense is used in many Christian churches, including the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Catholic churches. According to the Biblical text of Matthew 2:11, gold, frankincense, and myrrh were among the gifts to Jesus by the biblical magi “from out of the East.” Christian and Islamic Abrahamic faiths have all used frankincense mixed with oils to anoint newborn infants, initiates and members entering into new phases of their spiritual lives. The spread of Christianity depressed the market for frankincense during the 4th century AD. Desertification made the caravan routes across the Rub’ al-Khali (“Empty Quarter”) of the Arabian Peninsula more difficult.
Oman has traditionally been a major source of frankincense and is home to both the white and black variety, where it has been used as an incense for millennia. In 2011, famed parfumier Trygve Harris moved to Oman to distill some of the finest frankincense on the planet – and then decided to serve some of it in a unique ice cream that literally became the hit of the Sultanate! Details may be read here and while I was intrigued by the original recipe, it did not include eggs and was actually a gelato.
I decided to take my recipe in a different direction, however. I decided to use incredibly rich and decadent custard ice cream (I got the recipe from latimes.com) enriched with its many egg yolks which is a perfect receptacle to capture the rare scent in its many fat molecules, as well as offering a silky mouth feel to this decadent and perfumed ice cream! After corresponding with Master Parfumier Harris herself, she has given me her blessing to modify her original recipe and she even feels it might be a new variation worthy of her magnificent frankincense distillate, which you can purchase here. Should you ever find yourself in Oman, be sure and visit her distillery, you have my word that you won’t regret it!
Citizens, this is a delicious and fragrant beginning to our week of perfumed recipes – I hope you enjoy the unique flavor and silken texture of my version of this legendary ice cream at your earliest opportunity! This would be a fine end to an Omani feast, perhaps including the delicious leg of lamb that the country is renowned for.
Battle on – the Generalissimo