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Floral waters / hydrolats in Tunisia: distillation and virtues

Floral waters, hydrolats obtained by the distillation of flowers, are traditionally used to flavour, perfume or for their medicinal virtues.

The evolution of the hydrolats trade in Tunisia

In the past, it was customary for farmers with flower crops to use a few small plots of their land for distillation for personal or local consumption. For several generations, farmers have specialised in growing flowers especially for distillation, especially in the region of Nabeul and Hammamet. Thus, the profession has become more professional and the distillation equipment has been modernised. For several decades, the trade was thus very flourishing with shops specialising in the sale of these floral waters. Today, the demand has considerably decreased and farmers, craftswomen and hydrolat traders find it difficult to make a living from this trade.

Floral water shop - Artisan bottling hydrolats

However, many families have retained the know-how of the artisanal method and continue to distill all kinds of flowers, including orange, rose, lemon, rose, jasmine, Arab geranium and cloves.

The traditional method of distillation 

Traditionally, it is the women who take care of the distillation process using a bronze apparatus ("tannour", athanor or alambic) consisting of two vats connected to each other. The first vat, round, can hold 4 kg of flowers and must be completely hermetic. To do this, it is sealed with a strip of fabric decorated with clay. A low fire is lit underneath this vat to form a low-pressure steam. The flower steam then enters the circuit which passes through the second tank ("mahbess") filled with cold water whose role is only to cool the circuit so that the steam is transformed into water as it descends to the recovery bottle ("fechka"). These 4 kg of flowers make it possible to obtain 2 litres of water.

Tannour, Tunisian distillation apparatus - © Chwaya

The benefits of floral waters

A bit of stress? Drink a large glass of aterchya! Geranium water ("aterchya") is indeed used in Tunisia as a natural calming agent, and it works quite well. Some people also add it to pastries to flavour them. Orange blossom water ("zhar") is also used in pastries or to perfume Arab coffee. In the past, it was found in pharmacies because it is very beneficial for the eyes and digestion. It is also used in the summer as an application on the skin because it brings a feeling of freshness. Rose water is used for the eyes, it cleans them perfectly. Rosehip water ("nesri") is good for the heart. Hydrolats are also traditionally used to perfume oneself, especially lemon and jasmine floral waters, which have an excellent fragrance.

Jasmine, orange tree and rose from Tunisia - © Chwaya

Today, almost every Tunisian family still has a few bottles of hydrolat, in particular orange blossom and geranium flower water used to perfume sweet delicacies or to treat, but their use is becoming rarer in favour of medicines and industrial perfumes.

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