Nearly a year ago, at a friend’s 40th birthday party, I had the chance to sample some amazing herbal extracts by a company called Baume Des Anges. My friend Matt (who works with the company’s founder in France) carefully emptied the contents of a small black bag onto the breakfast table, sharing tiny glass bottles of aromatic liquid.
They came in all sorts of flavors and could be sprayed directly onto food for added herbal essence. Basil, celery, cilantro, and lavender were the ones I liked best, so Matt gave me a bottle of the cilantro to use at home in my kitchen. I could immediately understand the appeal of these perpetually fresh-tasting culinary sprays. How convenient to always have the full flavor of fresh-picked cilantro or lavender just sitting on the shelf! They solve two common problems that home cooks tend to have:
- Half-used fresh herbs going bad in the refrigerator
- Flavorless dried herbs that are devoid of all nutritional value (and sometimes even moldy!) taking up space in the pantry
As a home gardener who has lots of fresh herbs in the yard, I find it really difficult to grow cilantro and basil. They both bolt so quickly that I can barely use them before they’re gone. And dried basil and cilantro might as well be sawdust, as far as my taste buds are concerned, so these little bottles were pretty impressive.
A Chance Trip to France
When the opportunity arose for me to go to Paris in June, I decided to make the most of it by extending my trip through the rest of the week and visiting the French countryside. My friend Matt, who is still living there, offered to organize a visit to the Baume Des Anges farm, where I’d spend the day with the founder, Laurent Dreyfus-Schmidt. The plan was for me to tour his beautiful property, learn about the plants and the extraction process, and enjoy the spectacular views of Provence. After using the cilantro in my cooking and loving how easy and convenient it was, I realized what an exciting opportunity it would be to learn more about these products and the process of making them.
Baume Des Anges Farm
Nestled in the countryside of Provence, overlooking the cave from which the company name is derived, the Baume Des Anges property is nothing short of breath-taking. The views at the edge of the property are spectacular, overlooking the Rhône and the many narrow bridges stretching across it. From the edge of the cliffs, farmland stretches as far as the eye can see, with patches of solid purple marking the iconic lavender farms for which the region is known.
Laurent rebuilt his farm and lab at the base of an ancient water source, which trickles into his basement in the spring when the water is flowing from the mountains above. He’s set up a home lab where he blends his pure plant essences with organic sunflower oil and mineral water to make Blissful Plant Sprays. He is growing a number of culinary herbs, flowers, and trees on his farm, and gave me a tour of the property, which ended at a beautiful limestone cave hidden in a grove of oak trees. It was clear that this was a special spot for Laurent.
I even got to meet his adorable pup L, who’s trained to sniff out truffles on the property — pretty sweet dog trick!! (I don’t think Laurent was very impressed when I shared that Dexter’s best trick is putting her head on my shoulder on command.)
The farm is irrigated using well water that Laurent collects in the freshwater pools on his property (one is shown above), contributing yet another natural, unadulterated ingredient into these amazingly pure and thoughtfully designed products. Laurent’s farm is one of just twelve farms (all organic or GLOBALG.A.P. certified) that provide the resources for the Baume Des Anges operation, including the farm that provides fresh-pressed organic sunflower oil for every batch of the Blissful Plant line for home cooks. I learned on my trip that the oil is pressed on-demand, leaving zero chance for rancidity or premature oxidation.
The Better than Fresh Process
Baume Des Anges utilizes an extraction facility that Laurent designed and built himself, just off site from the farm. His proprietary, dry, cold extraction process transforms 2.5 cubic meters of fresh herbs per batch into tiny amounts of highly concentrated essence, retaining the complex aromas and flavors of every plant that runs through the system.
Now, I have to admit, the first time I ever earned a grade lower than a B in school, it was in chemistry class my junior year. This fact, combined with Laurent’s thick French accent (I know zero French), made for a somewhat painstaking attempt on Laurent’s part to explain the process to me. The patience he displayed should probably qualify him for sainthood. But I’m pretty sure I got it all down correctly.
Here’s what I learned from my chemistry lesson:
In order to properly extract the essence from the herbs without damaging the plant, two things need to be precisely calibrated:
- Pressure (needs to be low)
- Temperature (needs to be 167° F)
Laurent has built vacuum pumps into his extraction system in order to accomplish this precision. Competing companies extract essences at temperatures at or above 212° F.
You can read more about the process from seed to bottle here.
Professional Grade vs. Home Chef
I was surprised to learn that the Blissful Plant line for home cooks (the cilantro I’d been using at home) is actually significantly diluted when compared to the liquid that comes out of the dry steam extractor. Laurent explained that he only sells the pure extracts to professionals. These pure essences draw the attention of world famous chefs like Thomas Keller of The French Laundry in the Napa Valley wine country and Per Se in NYC. These are just two among the 150 Michelin-starred restaurants using Laurent’s pure essences all over the world.
The Blissful line flavors are intense, but only 1% of what’s in the bottle is the pure extract. The rest is organic sunflower oil, pressed to order, and locally sourced mineral water. When you try the home chef line, you’ll understand why I was so surprised that they were diluted at all. The flavor is amazing with just a spray or two per person.
And it’s not just professional chefs who use these essences. Top of the line perfumers like Chanel, Guerlain, and Burberry source lavender essence from Laurent, which just goes to show you just how fancy this stuff really is!
I was lucky enough to walk away from this unique experience with a professional-grade bottle of Basil Essence, which Laurent recommended diluting by adding 7 drops to an entire liter of EVOO! Pretty powerful stuff! I have used it to infuse basil flavor into steak, homemade salad dressing, and roasted chicken, and I’ve loved the finished product every time.
Because a 5mL bottle of pure extract can run above $500, I’m going to stick to sharing recipes using the Blissful Plant line. In the meantime, check out their full line of products (and recipes), and consider using them in salad dressings, marinades, and as finishing touches on both protein and veggie dishes.