I used to think the best candles were always uniquely, powerfully scented. In my early twenties, I was tied to one candle in particular: Diptique Baies or bust. At the time, most of the "cooking" I did was really just assembling, and "entertaining" usually just meant drinks.
Now, when people come over I actually feed them. And while there is still a scented candle on the nightstand, my kitchen and dining room are filled with unscented ones to ensure that no perfumey smells interfere with the scent of the miso-swirled soups or apple galettes I'm feeding my guests.
Lighting a few candles can elevate even the most basic one pot meal to something worthy of lingering over. But all candles are not created equal. Here are a few tips on what to look for a kitchen or dining room candle (yes, there's more to them than color and smell) and a few of my favorites available online.
Candles will burn at different rates and have different smells (even the unscented ones!) depending on the wax they're made of. Beeswax is my favorite. It's hypo-allergenic, produces less soot and smoke than any other wax, and is biodegradable. It has a subtle, naturally sweet scent, but not one that will overpower any cooking aromas. In terms of safety, beeswax also the best bet, since recent articles have revealed the air-polluting qualities of many candles made with lesser waxes. Beeswax is more expensive, but it burns two to five times slower than paraffin.
If you can't spring for beeswax, soy wax or food-grade paraffin are the next-best bets.
Wicks Do Too
I've also begun to look out for 100% cotton, lead-free wicks. Originally, candle manufacturers put metal (frequently lead) into wicks to help them stand upright, and while the US candle industry has stopped this practice, the EPA reports that candles with lead-tinged wicks are still on the market.
The More The Merrier
Let go of your organized side that wants perfectly symmetrical, monochromatic candles. I've found that a jumble of shapes and sizes, in a range of soft colors like white, cream, grey, and blush, look much more natural than a series of matching pillars. Arrange them on a tray, place tea lights in small bowls, or just pile them all together in the center of your table.
Clean Burning Pillars
Drip Free Tonal Tapers
Sweetly Scented Beeswax Tapers
High Drama Twisted Tapers
Tiny Beeswax Tea Lights
Slow Burning Beeswax Votives
Originally Appeared on Epicurious