A few months ago, I wrote a story about all the unscented candles to light while entertaining. While I love a bougie scented candle as much as any twenty-something woman who is not yet tethered to the cost of children or a mortgage, I had thought suggesting you burn one during a dinner party was just too wild. Their aroma might interfere or mix unappealingly with the scent of whatever food you're cooking.
Nuh uh. Within hours of the story going up, my (one) loyal reader texted asking about scented candles—specifically, why I don't respect them. See, my one loyal reader also lives with me and relies on me for all meals that don't consist of quesadillas. In turn, I rely on him to control mood, light, and smell: he's taken on the niche but important role of changing all the lightbulbs and buying all the candles.
While I'm not here to doubt a man who considers a candelabra a must, I wanted to consult other experts on the topic as well. I reached out to Tamara Mayne of Brooklyn Candle Studio, the maker of my favorite scented candle, a layered, earthy scent called Hinoki. Mayne reassured me that scented candles can absolutely accompany dinner—and took it one step further by suggesting seasonal swaps. "In the summer, for lighter food options, we would probably burn an energizing citrus, but in the wintertime, we'd probably burn earthier scents to complement the seasonal ingredients like root vegetables," she explains.
In general, I would suggest veering towards citrusy, smoky, or woodsy scents over anything floral or sweet, and swapping them out depending on the season, what you're cooking, or your mood. After all, scent is deeply personal. I love leather, sandlewood, and pepper, but some people find that too heavy during a meal and prefer grassier, cleaner scents, which often smell soapy to me.
The beauty behind the scented candle thing is this: it's incredibly low stakes. If, by chance, you buy one for your dining room that's too strong, just do like our favorite restaurants do and burn it in the bathroom. (I've been burning this Keep Candle at home since we saw it in the loo at June in Brooklyn.)
In the last few months, I've burned many a mysteriously fragranced candle alongside dinner. First, I burned the candles one by one during weeknight dinners. Then each contender that proved inoffensive added to the dinner party rotation—for a long time, having a meal at my house meant unwittingly volunteering to be questioned about the aroma over dessert. Plenty muddled, overpowered, or otherwise interfered the scent of the meal—but a few stood out as keepers. Here are the winners:
Woodsy, Earthy, Just-Sweet-Enough